manager paid bonuses from her own money, mailing list etiquette, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Manager paid bonuses from her personal money

A friend of mine, Jackson, shared this conundrum with me, and I immediately thought of emailing you because it’s kind of a doozy. Jackson works for a mid-sized government organization and was recently promoted to a program manager position. He will coordinate the work of several professionals, and also manage a couple of administrative staff members, Abigail and Cynthia. When he was announced as the new manager (he hasn’t yet formally moved into the role), Abigail and Cynthia separately came to him and let him know that his predecessor had been supplementing their salaries out of her own pocket, to the tune of thousands of dollars a year! Jackson wasn’t previously aware of this arrangement, and his predecessor has left the organization.

Neither woman outright asked him if he would be continuing this tradition, but they hinted strongly, talking about how low their pay is, how much they appreciated what he did for them, how it made the holidays easier every year (I guess she typically paid them as a year-end bonus). Jackson is not in a position to continue with the bonuses, but he feels bad that they are essentially getting a 10-15% pay cut. It’s also incredibly awkward to think about how to tell them that their will be no year-end windfall, and then have to continue working with them. He does not believe that the program director is aware of the arrangement, and is also concerned about getting Abigail and Cynthia in trouble if he alerts the director or any of the other powers-that-be, even if it’s to advocate for raises for them. (Which is what I suggested he try to do.)

He needs to alert the program director. It’s not about getting Abigail and Cynthia in trouble; it’s about alerting his employer to highly relevant information about something that’s been happening on the staff he now manages. They need to know because it potentially opens them up to all sorts of problems. There’s the piece Jackson is thinking about, about these employees now feeling like they’re taking a pay cut, totally outside of the organization’s knowledge. But also, when people are paid outside of their formal salary structure, an employer has no way of watching for things like inequitable pay (for example, what if admin staff members who didn’t get the extra pay just happen to be a different race or religion?). And how was this money reported and taxed?

It would be really negligent of Jackson to keep this information to himself. He’s part of the management team now! If his employer finds out about it later on their own, it’s going to reflect incredibly poorly on him, to the point that they may question whether he’s cut out for his new job. He has to tell his management what he learned.

2. How can new hires explain they’re new and still learning?

I’m a manager of about 20 student employees in a university library. Every year I train in a new batch of employees on routine library tasks. All of the training is on-the-job, as-you-go style; not hypothetical “if you ever need….” since that’s rarely helpful. As a result, I have half of my staff always in learning mode. I want to avoid having them feel bad for being new while they’re helping people. Is there a good way to navigate this “newbie” stage?

I don’t want my workers to abuse the excuse or seem ignorant to our patrons’ need for quality service, but I feel like always having to say “I’m sorry, I’m new/still learning” doesn’t do much to bolster confidence in oneself or the patron. I’m also not a huge fan of wearing name badges that scream “trainee” to warn people that they’re going to be our staff’s “lab rat.”

I’d actually revisit your commitment to the as-you-go training, since that approach guarantees that they’ll be unhelpful to a far larger number of patrons than if you equipped them to answer the most common questions right from the start. You know your business better than I do, obviously, but it’s hard to imagine that your new staff and your patrons wouldn’t be better served by investing in more training up-front, so that your new hires don’t have to seek guidance for every single thing the first time they encounter it.

That won’t take care of everything, of course, but it should take care of a large chunk of it. Beyond that, though, when things come up that they don’t know the answer to, it’s reasonable for them to say, “I’m so sorry, I’m new and don’t know that yet, but let me find someone who can help you.” (Just ensure that help is found quickly so people aren’t left waiting around for long stretches.)

3. Mailing list etiquette

I have a quick question about email etiquette. I recently received an email from the head of my field’s statewide online professional development, encouraging me to log on to Facebook and vote for some children in a sports photo contest.

As far as I can gather from asking around, he sent this to a large number of my coworkers in the state, possibly everyone registered for online professional development. This has to be a breach of etiquette, right? I’m not sure how to respond and probably won’t, but it made me uncomfortable to think he was using our email addresses like that.

Yeah, it’s inappropriate. You didn’t give him your email address for him to use for personal things like that. It’s a bit spammy.

If it’s just happened this once, I’d roll your eyes and let it go. But if it happens a second time, it would be perfectly reasonable to write back and say, “I prefer not to have my email address used for this kind of message.” Or even, “I don’t think this is an appropriate use of the list we signed up for.” (Actually, it would be perfectly reasonable to say that the first time too, but it may not be worth it unless it keeps happening.)

4. I sent a customer complaint to the store where my wife works

I wrote to a customer care department about price increases at their store. It just so happens that my wife is employed here. My wife thinks that the company can retaliate because my last name (and hers) are attached to the email. Is this true? I wrote as a customer, not a disgruntled or concerned spouse.

Yes. Whether or not they will is a separate question, but it definitely doesn’t reflect well on your wife that her spouse is sending in complaints to her employer, even though you wrote as a customer and left her out of it.

Hopefully they won’t connect your name with hers. If they do, it’s going to look weird. Not necessarily so weird that it will be a huge issue for her at work (although that could depend specifically on what you wrote), but definitely weird.

5. Applying for a job with someone on my current employer’s board

I have just started work at a very small nonprofit that is highly dysfunctional. As in attempted coup, sabotage, and board issues dysfunctional. I knew none of this before coming on board.

I have an interview coming up with an organization I really want to work for. But just my luck, the director of the program I have applied to is a member of my current employer’s board.

Is it unethical for the board member/director to disclose my application at her workplace? I live in a place where I am limited as to the nonprofits I can work at (as I am an atheist and I live in the Bible Belt) and there is likely to be a lot of this sort of overlap going on. While I do want to leave my current employer, I do not want it advertised. Is there any expectation of privacy in this sort of a scenario?

It varies. Some people in the board member’s shoes would feel obligated to let their organization know that a new staff member was already looking to leave. Some will feel that’s trumped by the confidentiality most people expect when job searching. To some extent, it may depend on how active a board member she is. If this is a pretty hands-on board, she’s more likely to feel obligated to say something.

Since you already have an interview set up, I’d be prepared to address it even if she doesn’t. Even if the board is hands-off enough that she doesn’t recognize your name, she’s going to see the organization on your resume and your recent start date, so you should proactively explain that you know she’s on the board, that you wouldn’t normally be looking this early on but are looking because of ___, and that you hope she’ll be able to keep your application confidential. The tricky part is going to be what to fill in the blank with, because frankly all that dysfunction reflects on her as a governing board member. (In fact, I’d give serious thought to whether you want to work for her for that reason. It’s possible that she’s not part of the problem, but it’s also possible that she is. Board members are responsible for the health of the organizations they govern, and it sounds like she’s helping to oversee an awfully unhealthy one.)

{ 424 comments… read them below }

  1. PM Jesper Berg*

    OP1: Alison is 100% right on this; Jackson needs to alert the program director. It’s not even a close call. And under no circumstances should he continue this “tradition” of paying bonuses out of his own pocket.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Likely they’ll have to do a review of whether this happened and then address the salary discrepancy issues with the current staff (and possibly with the old boss). I suspect this is a really big deal in part because this is a governmental employer—the civil service is pretty strict about pay and bonuses, and if the old boss really was supplementing her reports’ income, it’s a BFD.

        1. Antilles*

          I honestly question if the director even *can* address the salary discrepancy issues.
          A private company would just sit down, talk with the employees and come to some sort of compromise – maybe we can’t afford to give you the full 10-15% raise, but we’ll give you something to close the gap a little.
          But government employers generally have very strict and specific rules about doling out money. There’s a formal procedure to go through for reviews/raises, required approvals, pay caps per classification and so on. So even if the director feels for Abigail and Cynthia and wants to raise their pay to make it right, it’s possible that he might be barred from doing so.

          1. nonymous*

            but there’s also a budget for performance bonuses and the like. It’s also possible that previous boss was allocating the bulk of these funds for the two staff members and communicated in a strangely personal way.

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              Sometimes there’s a budget. Not always. My state government agency has no bonuses, no merit increases, and very little wiggle room outside of the established pay structure.

              1. Cercis*

                The city gov’t I worked for would pay out unused leave. Instead of paying it with your regular check and direct depositing it, they would cut a separate check and then hand deliver it. It came across as though they were trying to pretend they were giving you a bonus. I thought it was stupid and made extra work for me (seriously? I have to now make a special trip to the bank to deposit this?) but mostly just rolled my eyes at it. Some of my coworkers, though, were really pissed at what they saw as fraudulent motives. They finally stopped it and just started direct depositing it (still as a separate check, though).

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh, I apologize—I didn’t mean that these folks would get raises. I meant address the issue as in bring up the issue and explain why this is really not ok and will not be continuing going forward (assuming it ever happened to begin with). The civil service is crazy strict about salaries and is not going to accommodate a misguided manager’s personal decision to “supplement” people’s income using her own.

      2. Fafaflunkie*

        I can only speculate on this one, but I’m going to guess that the program director, being in a management role of a government organization would be obligated to tell the payroll department of what the former manager was doing, and call Abigail and Cynthia on the carpet. Find out exactly how much bonus was being paid by Jackson, and put that on a revised W2-T4-whatever form that’s sent to the IRS/CRA/whoever deals with income taxes in their country. I’m pretty sure that bonus Abigail and Cynthia received “out of pocket” from Jackson wasn’t declared as income, and that if discovered from said revenue agencies will result in a big pile of bleep for the company they’re working for, as well as Abigail and Cynthia.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I suspect that the situation will get pretty messy before it’s resolved. But the longer it goes before it’s discovered, the messier it would be, and as Jackson knows about it now, he could end up in trouble too.

          I’m curious if the predecessor is still employed there, or had left. If they still work there, I strongly suspect this would be a fireable offence, no matter how kindly it was meant. If they’ve left, I’d wonder if it would lead to some sort of charges, given the strictness of government employers when it comes to stuff like this. Abigail and Cynthia are not going to be happy about owing back-taxes on their under-the-table raise, either.

        2. K.A.*

          Since the money didn’t come from the employer payroll, they wouldn’t issue a revised W2. The money would likely be seen by the IRS as a “gift” from the individual who gave it. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I believe the current threshold for gift taxes is around $12,000/person — but that keeps the giver from paying tax on the gift. It is possible that the recipient has to pay taxes, but the employees would have to file amended returns themselves.

          1. BeezLouise*

            The threshold for the last few years is actually $14,000 but this isn’t a gift.

            This is (presumably) unreported income with real tax implications for the admins. They don’t need a revised W-2, because it didn’t come from their employer, but they should have been reporting it as income with a 1099.

            1. Temperance*

              I think this is one of those questions best answered by a tax attorney. It very well could be a gift – I have no idea how this works.

              1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

                IANAL and my first thought went to gift, but in rethinking it, my assumption is that while they would try and claim it as a holiday gift of sorts, it would likely be viewed as a bonus and therefore based on work, and taxable. If there is any documentation to that effect – emails or something referring to it as a holiday bonus or other work related income and not as a holiday gift – they’d likely lose that fight and owe taxes.

              2. Antilles*

                The question here is whether or not it actually counts as a ‘gift’ though. The IRS actually has specific rules on what can be counted as a ‘gift’, specifically to avoid loopholes like these. Otherwise, you’d get into situations where people claim that it’s not a (taxable) salary of $33,000, it’s a set of $11,000 ‘gifts’ from my boss, my grandboss, and my great-grandboss.

                1. Just another fed*

                  But your example is not actually a loophole because someone’s paying the taxes for it. IANAL or tax lessons, but it would be my understanding that if boss was being paid some amount with $11k in there for the employee, the full amount would turn up on boss’s W2 and therefore taxes would be paid by boss (and the employer) before it reached the employee. So it’s not a tax loophole, IRS gets their cut, the boss just paid more for taxes and the employee less.

                2. De Minimis*

                  I think their big concern would be payroll tax avoidance by the employer. They’d also be interested in the income taxes for the individual employees, but they’re usually more focused on making sure companies are paying what they are supposed to be paying. This is why there are so many rules regarding whether someone is a contractor or an employee…

                3. Chinook*

                  Wouldn’t looking at it as a gift rather than part of their compensation hurt these employees when it comes to retirement pension. Of course, this is a Canadian perspective, but if the money (say $10,000/year) is a gift and not income, that means that it doesn’t count towards their earnings that are used for pension purposes. I know that, when self employed, it was to my advantage to account for every dollar I earned and pay both my and my employer payroll taxes so that, when I get my CPP pension (which every work gets) at 67, I show that I have earned and paid for it (because I believe it is based on how much you paid into it).

                  And, if they are government, does that mean they are a)union and/or b) have a government pension. I bet the union wouldn’t be happy about someone being paid outside the agreement and the pension wouldn’t reflect their true earnings.

              3. Beez Louise*

                It’s not a gift. Gifts have to be given out of disinterested generosity, and here this money is part of their compensation package, even though it came out of their boss’s personal account.

                As a side note, even “holiday gifts”, gift cards, and bonuses are likely considered income to the recipient if they come from your boss or your employer. And it doesn’t become tax-free because taxes already came out of the bosses paycheck because the employees themselves haven’t been taxed on it yet.

                1. Beez Louise*

                  (I am a lawyer, but not a tax attorney, and this shouldn’t be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions about your taxable income you should consult a tax attorney).

                2. Ego Chamber*

                  Quick question about taxing “gift” bonuses: My toxic ex-employer used to have incentive contests for meeting certain performance metrics and would award $49 gift cards as prizes. I won once and tried to opt out because I didn’t want to deal with the taxes on unearned income. Employer said no taxes were due because the threshold to pay taxes was $50, and the gift card was only $49 (I could be off on the numbers, this was a few years ago), which they obviously thought was very clever.

                  Is this another example of my toxic ex-employer being full of shit or is this a real thing?

              4. Natalie*

                (Accountant, not a tax attorney) It’s exceedingly unlikely that this would be considered a gift. The fundamental concept of a gift, per the IRS, is a transfer of cash made out of “disinterested generosity”. The manager’s giving them money doesn’t meet that test. It probably doesn’t matter if it was coming out of the manager’s account rather than the companies.

                1. Statler von Waldorf*

                  It wouldn’t qualify as a gift in Canada either, as all cash payments from employers are considered a taxable benefit. There are narrow exceptions for non-cash gifts or awards, but this definitely would not qualify.

                2. De Minimis*

                  Another accountant here, piling on. Most likely not a gift. There was a high profile tax court case regarding this issue long ago involving an NFL player.

                  Not sure on the implications for the company itself, though.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              But couldn’t one very easily spin it as a gift? I’m sure there’s no paperwork that refers to it as a bonus, and it came from a private individual, not the employer. Wouldn’t it be a lot more difficult to try to prove it was supposed to be considered a bonus?

              1. Important Moi*

                I agree with you, but (I may be projecting here), OP may be concerned that the ladies will not perform their duties as expected upon realizing OP will not be providing the “bonuses.”

              2. Jesca*

                Either way, this is such a Fuster-Cluck that there will be no easy or good outcome. It is going to cost the employer money to heavily investigate to see if they are liable for anything, the employees are going to be drug into stress, and a new manager is going to have to deal with whatever fall out occurs. But in the end, OP needs to say something. Their rep is on the line here.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Oh, yeah, there are definitely a lot of issues here. I just think wait, you didn’t pay taxes on that “income!” is the least of them.

              3. Margaret*

                The IRS would absolutely consider it a bonus. What’s the reasons for the money? Because they’re an employee of the boss. It’s clearly connected to their work, regardless of it not coming directly from the company. If there are other circumstances – e.g., the employee is the boss’s child, in addition to being their employee, or something like that, then obviously you can gift in that capacity. But even if they’re also friends, the likelihood that they just happen to be close enough to warrant giving a large gift that’s unrelated to their work is going to be the exception, not the norm.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            It could be the manager viewed it as a gift and the employees as salary. Going to their new manager about it strongly suggests the latter. Which is really going to undercut any late “wait… we owe taxes if it wasn’t a personal gift?” scrambling on their part.

          3. many bells down*

            My boss circa 2001 implemented a new bonus structure where getting specific paperwork done by X deadline would result in extra pay for me. It wasn’t until I went to file my taxes that I realized he hadn’t taken any tax out of these bonus checks, they were from his personal account.

            I was hit with a crippling tax bill that year. I had to negotiate a payment plan for it. This might cause real problems for these employees.

          4. VermiciousKnit*

            Even if it was a gift, in my state, as state workers we are prevented from accepting any gift, money, or object related to our work that has a value of over $25. We could be fired for accepting it, anyone giving it could be subject to consequences such as termination of contracts or loss of a license, and potentially charged with violating the law since this is written in code. It’s to make sure that classified government workers don’t accept/can’t be swayed by bribes and lobbyists (too bad it doesn’t apply to elected officials).

        3. nonegiven*

          I don’t see how this isn’t a personal gift and not subject to tax.

          The previous boss wasn’t the government, wasn’t using the government’s money. It was from his personal account. They weren’t doing off the books work for him personally, therefore, gift.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Are you serious? A manager giving their employees a “gift” of 10-15% of the employees’ salary because the manager thinks the employees should be paid more is pretty sketchy territory for defining a gift.

      3. LBK*

        Tax issues aside, I’m assuming the program director will put a hard stop to this practice. I think it would behoove Jackson to have the program director’s backing on this since I don’t see a way that cutting off the bonuses won’t royally piss off his employees, and it will be helpful to borrow some authority for such a dramatic change since he hasn’t really established his own yet.

      4. Artemesia*

        The company is probably on the hook for FICA and taxes for starters; there is all sorts of liability here. I am shocked that anyone would do this without recognizing the tax implications. It would be one thing if it were a small bonus which could be construed as a gift i.e. under 100$. But if it is involving thousands then the company is sideways with the IRS at minimum and the employees as well who have received under the table pay.

        The OP needs to sit down with the boss yesterday on this.

        1. De Minimis*

          From my experience, management rarely look at the financial/tax implications [as far as compliance issues] of things they want to do, unless they work in the finance department itself.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Here in NY we pay tax on that $50 from an employer. BTDT. It really does not matter the amount any amount has to be declared.

    1. WWF*

      +1 Also, OP1 mentioned it was a government organization involved. They frequently have strict prohibitions against supervisor-subordinate financial relationships.

    2. Cody's Dad*

      At the very least Jackson should alert his boss as things may tank pretty quick once the ladies realize he is not willing to supplement thier income. He doesn’t want a bad climate to reflect on him because of this highly unusual situation.

      1. always in email jail*

        ^this. at the very least, he’s running the risk of suddenly losing all of his admin staff, and having to explain why they chose to not work under him

      2. Katie the Fed*

        They should never have accepted the money in the first place, and there’s no way they can reasonably expect it to continue.

        1. SophieChotek*

          Now that these two ladies have told him about their old payment structure (in hopes it will continue, I gather) it sounds like if he reports it, this could really (from their viewpoint) backfire on them…especially if the IRS goes after back taxes, etc. Sounds like a mess.

          1. Luce21*

            I don’t think the IRS has a right to go after back taxes, since the manager giving out the ‘bonuses’ had already paid income tax (likely at a higher rate, since she made more money) on the money. I could be wrong, though.

            1. Bea*

              If the IRS runs an audit and they cashed checks and deposited them, they will see Sally Smith was writing them checks every month and demand answers. They prefer to take as much in taxes as possible they’re not going to take “oh just a few gifts” as enough evidence they weren’t running a side job for their old boss doing housework or personal jobs of any kind. The IRS isn’t in the business of taking someone at their word.

              1. Jaydee*

                It’s not that the IRS “prefers to take as much in taxes as possible.” The tax code has very specific rules about what income is taxable and to whom. Often when income goes through multiple hands, it is taxed at one level but then specifically excluded from income or deductible or something at another level.

                The issue comes up when people try to find a way to avoid taxes that are legitimately owed. For example, if the employees see the money as a gift and therefore don’t count it as income but the former boss deducted it as a business expense. Can’t have it both ways. Either it is taxable income to the employer and a proper business expense to the employer or it’s a gift that may be taxable to the giver and not to the recipient.

              2. MK*

                Eh, I wouldn’t frame a government department’s applying taxation law as a preference. It is their duty to collect all the taxes individuals owe according to the law.

            2. Ego Chamber*

              “I don’t think the IRS has a right to go after back taxes, since the manager giving out the ‘bonuses’ had already paid income tax (likely at a higher rate, since she made more money) on the money. I could be wrong, though.”

              You are. :) Money is taxed basically every time it changes hands in the context of payment for services. (By your logic, none of us should ever have to pay taxes because all the money has already been taxed at least once.)

        2. AnonToday*

          Why wouldn’t this be grounds for termination for these admins? I know from reading this blog that firing a government employee can be very difficult, but they must have known accepting this money was wrong, and it seems like a pretty big offense. If I was the manager, I don’t think I’d be inclined to try and give a raise after discovering this was going on, I’d want to cut them loose.

          1. AMPG*

            There’s a really good chance that this was illegal, in which case firing might be the least of their problems.

          2. KMB213*

            Just to offer another possibility, I don’t think they necessarily had to have known it was wrong. At a law firm at which I previously worked, several partners offered bonuses to their admins from their personal accounts – the firm was aware and no one found it odd.. Of course, with this being a governmental organization, this is quite different, but if these employees came from a similar environment as my previous firm, I could see them thinking this was the norm.

            Of course, it’s also possible they knew it was wrong, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the only reasonable conclusion.

            1. CMart*

              I think it might also be a bit different because in a partnership it’s all in a wibbly way the company’s money. So it would feel less odd for a partner to gift bonuses from their personal accounts (gift deduction debate aside) because ostensibly it’s simply a matter of which bank account the firm’s money is using to dole out the bonus.

              OP1’s scenario is a much more clear cut “this is weird and you should feel weird about it” thing.

              1. KMB213*

                I guess I didn’t articulate my point clearly – I wasn’t saying it was OK in this scenario, just saying that, if these women came from an environment in which supervisors personally paid out bonuses, they may be accustomed to it. My example was only one, but many others gave examples further down.

                I don’t see how the money a partner in a law firm keeps in his or her personal account is in any way the company’s money.

                1. CMart*

                  It’s not. Not legally, not officially.

                  All I was saying is that it wouldn’t “feel weird” to accept a personal bonus from a Partner because, I assume, their salaries are likely a proportion of the partnership income. Therefore as the recipient it’s pretty much “eh, it would come out of their personal income either way”.

                  But in a not-partnership situation I can’t see how accepting a personal bonus from a manager wouldn’t feel really, really weird and uncomfortable.

            2. Ted Mosby*

              If they knew it was wrong, it seems really weird that theyd announce that it used to happen to their boss on the first day. They seem pretty clueless, esp given they actually hinted they’d like this to continue as though that was a reasonable or plausible outcome to expect.

          3. Statler von Waldorf*

            I’m curious why people seem to think that the admins accepting money from their bosses is illegal. Assuming that they declared that money as income, I don’t see what laws that they actually broke.

            Now, I’ve never worked in government, so it’s possible that there are internal polices that I am unaware of that were broken by this. I could definitely see how the departed manager Mr. Claus broke a few tax laws. However, the admins merely accepted money for doing their jobs, and that is completely legal.

            1. AMPG*

              Government is an entirely different environment. There are almost always laws about this sort of thing, and it’s the employees’ responsibility to know and abide by them.

              1. Statler von Waldorf*

                Fair enough. IANAL, but near as I can tell by googling, there are no equivalent federal laws in Canada that would apply to this situation. There are some provincial conflict of interest laws that might apply, but it is nowhere near as clear cut as it appears to be in the States.

                1. Doreen*

                  It may be perfectly legal under tax laws and it may not even constitute bribery or any other crime – but there are also ethics laws regarding conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts and I can’t imagine that Canada doesn’t have them. And that’s going to be the problem for Abigail and Cynthia. Why exactly was former manager paying them thousands a year out of his own pocket? It’s a little hard to imagine he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart and getting nothing for it , so it gives the appearance that he was paying them for something other than doing their job. Maybe they were covering for him in some way – I once supervised someone at a different location who I suspected had the clerical staff covering up his absences. Whenever I called him, he wasn’t at his desk and he would call me back a few minutes later. If I had ever found out that he was giving them a few thousand a year each, I would have been certain he was paying them to cover for him.

            2. Grecko*

              As a government employee, it’s illegal to accept money to do anything related to your job. It’s bribery. The fact that the person asking is their manager doesn’t matter. As a public servant you need to be committed to the law and the people you work for (the public) and not the person you work for (the manager giving you money).

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      I’m just really confused by this letter.

      Before reading AAM, I never would have thought that something like this would happen. I don’t understand the mindset of a manager paying out of their own pocket for their employees to receive a bonus. It’s so confusing to me.

      I hope OP1 does talk to the higher ups because this is just very strange and he shouldn’t be beholden to a poor decision made by the previous manager.

      I’d love to know the reason why previous manager decided to do this as well.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        I agree this is very change, particularly in a government role but I have heard of this practice in the insurance world. I think the difference there is a lot of the workers are independent contractors. So regional office sells X in product and regional manager gets bonus of Y to do as he sees fit. He then bonuses his sales people from a % of that money. I actually cited a case in a wage claim that I dealt with that utilized this exact scenario. The lower level sales people had a contract that provided for a percent of the regional manager’s bonus so it was considered enforceable wages by the court for sales already made. Going forward, for sales not yet made they could discontinue the program but not for deals already closed.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        It’s so inappropriate for a government organization. However, it doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate across the board; it’s pretty common in investment banking/hedge funds for people to give their assistants bonuses out of their own bonus. And it’s not remotely against the rules. But these people get obscene amounts of bonus money and it’s expected; I remember being horrified when my friend quit his job in a huff because his bonus was “only” $250,000. But he explained that it’s all relative and he quit because his boss pocketed the money that was supposed to go to him, to the tune of another 200K. Crazy.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Yeah me neither! But he got an even better paying job within a couple of weeks. My salary allows me to have a decent life but his excessive salary and bonus helps me to understand why no one likes the 1%.

        1. Chinook*

          It is also inappropriate for a government organization because both they, and they tax payers, are not seeing the true cost of running that organization. In fact, other offices may be hurting because they are being compared to that office which is running quite well on the same budget as everyone else when, in reality, that office runs well only because it has the extra bonus money added into the budget which no one else does.

        2. many bells down*

          I was saying upthread that I had a boss that did this. He was a real estate agent and I was his sole employee. My paychecks came through the agency that he worked with, but my bonuses came out of his personal account (when he sold a house, I got a cut if the escrow paperwork was all in order.)

          I got a 1099 and paid taxes on all of it, though. Although I didn’t realize that the first year he did it.

      3. LBK*

        Guilt, probably. We’ve had a few letters on here from managers feeling bad that their employees get paid so little, not having the authority to give raises and wondering if they should be doing something to supplement their employees’ incomes. It’s not usually to the tune of thousands of dollars, though.

        I wonder if it could also be a misapplication of what sometimes happens in small businesses, where “the boss” gives people a Christmas bonus (that presumably actually comes out of the company’s budget, but when it’s a small business and the boss is the owner, those budgets are kind of blurred). Is it possible that with the company not supplying the funds for this, the old manager somehow got the impression it was up to her to pay bonuses to her employees?

      4. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

        First of all, I do want to say that cash gifts, especially to the tune of thousands of dollars, is extremely weird. However, I do think I can give some insight into the culture around how this could happen. Government salaries are really low so turnover is really high. Managers in government are constantly asked what we can do to retain good employees, but there is no money for employee appreciation. Employee appreciation gifts and events therefor are paid for out of the managers’ own pockets, because turnover is seen as a management problem, despite us all knowing it is caused by low salaries. Between birthday cakes, appreciation cook-offs, and Christmas and anniversary gifts, government managers are paying a good chunk of their salary to things that should be paid for by the organization, but won’t be, because public funds. That said, again, giving cash like this is highly unusual, and I expect these ladies will be fired after an investigation.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          This is the third govt. office I’ve worked in and I’ve never seen anything like your description. Our managers pay nothing out of their pockets for anything you list above. If we decide to celebrate a bday, everyone chips in. Xmas presents are a complete no-no. Anniversary gifts are rare and pretty low-cost and it part of HR’s budget. I hope you aren’t having to pay for this kind of thing yourself if you work in a govt office!

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I think this is something that varies a lot. I have a relative who works for the post office. He was subbing at a different office in another county for 2 weeks and while he was there the employees took up a birthday collection to buy a cake, paper plates, etc. He told us this story all pissed-off about how poorly the workers at that location are treated, because at his location the managers pay for that stuff.

      5. Liz2*

        This happened to my ex as part of a very small non profit- he and the director were the only perm employees. The org was not doing well and so no real raises were possible over a few years, and the director decided to give my ex some money to make up for it. Guilt mostly.

    4. Important Moi*

      Am I the only who thinks these 2 ladies will be fired and OP’s employer will consider this problem solved? That’s what I see happening.

      This is the problem with dysfunction, it gets normalized.

      1. LBK*

        I’d be a little surprised if they were fired right off the bat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were told the bonuses would be ending and they either quit or started acting so miserably that they ultimately got fired for that.

      2. Fake old Converse shoes*

        And OP friend will be praised for reporting them, even if that wasn’t his intention, because it’s the easiest solution.

      3. Amy*

        I think that whether the two women will be fired may depend on what their role in this is, exactly. Did they collude with their previous manager to plan this? Did they ask their ex-boss and get told that this is normal for the organization? Is this whole thing a con they made up between themselves? It does seem likely that they either knew this was off, or suspected, or should have suspected, given how out there the situation is. But I don’t think we have enough information to know, really, and the employer’s reaction may depend heavily on those details.

        1. Grecko*

          I don’t think that matters. They almost certainly violated an ethics rule stated in the mandatory training they almost certainly had.

        2. CrazyEngineerGirl*

          I can’t help but wonder if they really did know this was off. I want to think that they had to have known or at least suspected it was a little strange. But, they each talked to him and let him know they had been getting the extra money. They ‘hinted strongly’ that they’d like him to continue. I’m just… I’m just super confused by this…

          They either don’t realize it’s strange/not good, or they are freaking brazen. Right?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It could be desperation. They could realize that it’s different. They must have realized that it was bold to ask or else they would not have hinted.

      4. BigJlittlej*

        For federal employees, it’s illegal to accept supplementation of your federal salary from anyone. There may be similar laws in state and local governments. So, yes, I think it’s possible that they could be removed.

      5. Anon Accountant*

        My mind jumped to this. A stern reprimand at the very least or even fired. I thought it was illegal in government organizations to accept something like this. And that the rules would be very clearly spelled out to employees.

      6. Interviewer*

        I can’t imagine the higher-ups in this agency doing anything but firing these women for (a) having this conversation with their supervisor and (b) receiving unreported cash in exchange for their work at this agency. Asking to have the payments continue is so totally brazen, I can’t even picture how they decided they should do it. To me, it reads like they have a lot of experience, maybe they’ve done this to a string of prior managers, or they could be getting money at work from several sources. And, it boggles my mind to consider that it would turn out any other way, except for an immediate firing.

        I would seriously love an update.

        1. Floundering Mander*

          My mind went straight to being suspicious of these women, and thinking that they are trying to pull off some sort of scam (and that they successfully scammed the previous manager). It just seems totally out of line to me, and I’m surprised to hear that this can be the norm elsewhere! 10-15% of someone’s salary is a lot of money, and I can’t imagine that the manager makes *that* much more than the other employees.

    5. Young and Managing*

      I’m really shocked by this behavior. While I assume the former manager was trying to help his staff, I also think it’s terrible the employees expected this knowing it came from his pocket. I’ve been in a position where employees have asked me why I didn’t buy them gifts or provide them bonuses and it always put a terrible taste in my mouth. I didn’t have the means and they didn’t realize with overtime and small bonuses they were eligible for, they could essentially make close to my own salary. You should never ask anyone, no matter their position, to support you from their own pocket. Please let management know right away and make sure this stops.

    6. Important Moi*

      While the OP’s question was did not cast any aspersions on the ladies and Alison’s response was great, the tone in comments have suggested that the 2 ladies are basically criminals who blackmailed their previous manager and plan to blackmail the OP. The assumption of the intent of the worst of government workers by the commentariat bothers me.

      All we know is they’ve received something from someone who bypassed the rules. They want to know if they will continue to receive it (yes, not ideal) from the new someone.

  2. Fafaflunkie*

    #4: I’m a bit puzzled by this. You wrote a complaint letter at the store without realizing your spouse worked there? Am I missing something here? Something tells me if the company can associate you with your wife, there could be some repercussions forthcoming. I hope your last name’s Smith or Jones or some other common surname.

    1. The IT Manager*

      No. I’m pretty sure he knew and was unconcerned. Later his wife disagreed and he wrote into AAM to get an outside opinion on who’s right.

      1. Fafaflunkie*

        I can’t disagree with you on that one. Let’s just sit back, make some popcorn, and watch the fireworks.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I suspect this is getting into “LOGICALLY, my role as a customer and her role as an employee are completely separate, right? So logically my complaint letter shouldn’t impact her job at all. If it did, that would mean someone was being illogical!”

        1. Princess Carolyn*

          Ding ding ding. I’ve known a handful of people who think this way. It is kind of unfair that your association with someone (in this case, a spouse) limits what you can do and say, but that’s how it goes.

          Because complaining directly about higher prices doesn’t really do anything to hurt the business, I’d be surprised if anything comes of this. But something more public, like complaining on social media, could be real issue.

          1. many bells down*

            I’m a paying customer of the MMO my husband works on. But I also know things about upcoming content that another paying customer wouldn’t know. Revealing these things on social media would totally get my husband fired (and possibly me sued, as I have actually signed an NDA.)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I had a similar reaction (except I fell closer to IT Manager’s reaction). Like, does one seriously think that doing something like this would not affect their spouse?

      1. Mookie*

        His desire to be loudly right and/or aggrieved (about pricing!) overruled her desire to earn a living, possibly. And he just had to do it using their joint e-mail account rather than some anonymous burner. Yikes-a-rooni.

        1. Mookie*

          (My dad — my DAD — once cursed out a faculty member I was under when they phoned our house, literally picked up the phone and starting screaming obscenities at them because we’d had a bout of crank callers at the time, and then was surprised and glumly defensive when I was told to switch advisors, was uninvited from a conference I was presenting a paper at, and was asked to return a grant my department helped secure to fund my transportation to said conference. Gotta love those unintended consequences!)

          1. Doodle*

            Wow. I understand where they were coming from, but that feels like a bit of an overreaction. I’m so sorry it happened to you!

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, I agree. I mean, I would certainly be taken aback had I been the faculty member who placed the ill-timed phone call but I don’t really see why there needed to be any consequences for it, let alone ones so dire. This seems to have been more about some wounded ego thing on the faculty’s side than anything else. I’m really sorry about that mess as well!

              1. Harper*

                I agree — that was a bit of an over-reaction since there was a story behind it. Ugh. That sucked, Mookie.

          2. Fake old Converse shoes*

            My father accused a recruiter that had called me of working for a “fake” company. Apparently she misspelled the name of the company she worked at, and when he googled he was redirected to a porn website. The company was legit, but the recruiter was so offended that never called me again or returned my emails.

              1. MoinMoin*

                May I suggest near the holidays? Based on the current invite list, I know I’ll need to be reminded to be grateful for my family come Thanksgiving.

                1. oranges & lemons*

                  Hopefully this isn’t weird coming from a miscellaneous commenter, but I always love your stories and would easily pay for a column’s (or book’s!) worth of them.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              “Apparently she misspelled the name of the company she worked at, and when he googled he was redirected to a porn website.”

              Sooo… I’m having trouble following his logic here. Did he think the company was fake in the sense that it was a front for the porn site it redirected to (because that’s how fake websites work: they just redirect to the real, illicit site)? Or did he think the fact that it redirected to a different site at all meant the company was fake, and he would have reacted that way no matter what the redirect site was?

              Sorry that happened to you though. Parents can overreact in all the wrong ways.

          3. Else*

            Wow! I’m so sorry – I think if I had been your faculty member I would have been a lot more worried about making sure you were in a safe situation rather than about taking your funding away. Although – maybe they think that was YOU? Tell your dad, if he is still fussed about crank callers, that blowing a whistle in their ear is a better bet.

          4. Lalie*

            My father does the same thing! Luckily for me, the only ‘wrong’ person he’s done it to has been the security company for his own small business. (It was beautiful to watch the stammering.) I’m sorry you had to deal with that fallout. It’s one of the reasons I’m fairly straightforward about my father’s… unique personality, even with employers. I think it’s bull that there was that level of blowback on you, but god, have I been scared of that before.

          5. Mookie*

            Whoops, been away from the interwebs for a day or so. Thanks all for your commiserations!

            My dad tries not to actively think about or remember this, and I try to do the same, and thus it’s become a cheerier memory than the grim one it sounds like in writing. My department handled this poorly is all I can say, and in retrospect I probably should have pushed back, but I was repeatedly confronted about it and questioned in public by faculty and staff (students mostly kept their distance or were bewildered and the union didn’t feel they had any standing to interfere because nothing formal was being done to me), and I was more or less expected to make reparations towards the faculty member’s wounded feelings… they processed the cursing like it was a physical trauma and it took them about a year to recover from it. … I don’t know. *shrug*

            I switched majors and then transferred. As you do.

        2. Jessica*

          The letter said, “Both our names were attached to the email.” I’m guessing he specifically mentioned that his wife works at that store.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            The letter says “because my last name (and hers) are attached to the email.”

            “Attached to the email” sounds more like just the last name is on the email, like their last name is part of the email address or his full real name is on the From line.

            Tl;dr: Keep your last name. ;P

      2. Fifty Foot Commute*

        Not in OPs defense, but I honestly didn’t see anything off about it until I read the comments. Clearly that speaks poorly of me, but it’s possible to just not know better.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          It’s the phrase “it just so happens” that bugs me. I read it as the OP’s way of distancing themselves from taking responsibility for their actions. They’re trying to present it as a mere coincidence that the store they’re complaining about is also the store where their wife works. It was completely unavoidable, how could they have known, that kind of thing.

          Sorry, OP, I’m with your wife on this one. You were out of line. And even if it wasn’t intentional – especially if it wasn’t intentional – you should still apologize. Something like “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the impact this could have on you. I won’t do it again” would go a long way here.

          1. Jesca*

            Haha that is so right! Like whoops totally complained to wife’s employer! My bad!

            Whatever happened to “don’t poop where you eat”?

          2. WPH*

            Yeah, it’s the “it just so happens” that pings for me. It started with LOUDLY PROCLAIMING THE CLEAR CUT ISSUE and then whispering the extenuating circumstances that provide nuance. Plus, did he just get married yesterday to a stranger? If not, he probably knew where she worked before he sent the email so it did not just so happen.

          3. LBK*

            I think this is overparsing his word choice – I didn’t interpret that phrase to imply it was a coincidence, rather just ironic.

        2. Jen RO*

          I still don’t get what is the issue here… it’s not like the wife is in charge of setting the prices, right? The husband could complain to the wife in person (no result, she can’t do anything about it) or write to someone who may have a chance of addressing the problem. Also, why would the wife get in trouble because her husband complained – about prices of all things?

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, I think people are overreacting on this…assuming this is a chain and not a mom and pop shop, I think it actually is pretty unlikely that anyone at corporate will bother putting two and two together. Even if the complaint does get attached to a particular store, in my experience they have names stripped out anyway so they wouldn’t know who wrote it, and even then if somehow it didn’t, I doubt the store managers would do anything beyond maybe razzing the wife about it. It would be bizarre for them to punish her for something like that since presumably she doesn’t control her husband any more than she controls the store’s prices.

            It’s certainly a little weird to write the letter since I think if you have a personal tie to a business, you’re expected to an extent to just kind of let things go with them. But I don’t think retaliation should be a concern here.

            1. Kate 2*

              Actually, having worked at a nationwide corporate chain, they can link the letter to your store and then to you. And punish you.

              1. LBK*

                Having worked for two nationwide corporate chains, they certainly could if they really wanted to, but it feels unlikely and pointless.

            2. myswtghst*

              This is kind of where I landed on this one. If the pricing complaint was more or less calmly written, and relatively reasonable (not full of expletives or demanding a mom’n’pop store match big box discount pricing), it seems unlikely they’d retaliate against the spouse just because they have the same last name.

              Unless the husband has been a notorious problem customer and they know he’s married to their employee, and he sent in a raging diatribe with unreasonable demands, I can’t see a store doing more than laughing it off.

              1. CMart*

                I left a parent comment below that sort of hinted on my take on this:

                It’s not that he may have had a legitimate gripe that his employee-wife has no power to fix. It’s that complaints, ANY complaints whether valid or not, are black marks against a store if they’re part of a corporate chain. HQ ranks the stores in various ways and doesn’t like seeing complaints come in (even if it’s “hey HQ, please lower your prices, $10 for a banana is bonkers”) and the management of the locations get in various degrees of hot water for complaints linked to their location.

                Therefore it’s just… not done for people associated with the employees to lodge formal complaints. All complaints do is hurt the store, and why would an employee’s spouse want to hurt the store that contributes to their household income?

                1. myswtghst*

                  Therefore it’s just… not done for people associated with the employees to lodge formal complaints. All complaints do is hurt the store, and why would an employee’s spouse want to hurt the store that contributes to their household income?

                  If the wife’s store handles complaints this way, and the wife has made the husband aware that this is how complaints are handled, then I’d agree that it was uncool for him to send in a complaint anyways, even if it was a valid and calmly-worded complaint.

                  But I do think it’s worth noting that not every corp chain handles complaints this way, and that plenty of people who have never worked retail would never realize chains would handle complaints this way (because it’s kind of short-sighted, to say the least), so it’s entirely possible this isn’t the case (or at least that the husband didn’t realize it would be the case).

                  Again, if he knows complaints are a black mark on the store and sent it anyway (without using an anonymous form of communication / burner email), then yeah, not cool. But I don’t think it’s a totally unreasonable question for someone to ask.

                2. LBK*

                  Completely agreed with myswtghst – this is far from universal and definitely wouldn’t occur to the average customer in cases where it’s true.

              2. Ego Chamber*

                “and he sent in a raging diatribe with unreasonable demands,”

                Yeah… this right here. Otherwise, why would it even be worth questioning?

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s not uncommon, especially if you’re working retail, to be held accountable for complaints from anyone, but particularly from your relatives. Even if the complaint was worded sensibly and calmly, my experience has been that you’ll be asked why your spouse/relative is writing up complaints (and this includes mom and pops and large retail chains). It’s a big deal in that it undermines OP’s wife’s livelihood.

    3. M-C*

      Yeah really, how insensitive/clueless can you get? And to do it without her consent, and then pretend it could ever be OK. Oy..

            1. Regina Phalange*

              The entire series lives in my brain. ;) Funny story: I met my bestie (who actually introduced me to AAM) in college. We added each other on MySpace (!) and her quote was, “I write erotic novels for children. They’re wildly unpopular.” It was love at first quote. :)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I hope it’s cluelessness, because my second choice would be controlling and trying to sabotage her job, with a veneer of disingenuous.

    4. Hospitality anon*

      Working in hospitality, I’ve had this happen with people staying on the employee rate (usually family members, not employees). I’ve just contacted the employee, told them that’s not what their family members should be doing, and left it at that. I have heard of employees losing their employee discount privileges over things like this, and one extreme case of a guy being fired for something that his brother did.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        I spend a few summers in university working at a resort, and it was traditional that when your parents came to visit, you would have a meal in the dining room with them. I was really looking forward to that meal…until my father complained about the food and sent it back. I about died of embarrassment. I would also bet the server went back to the kitchen and said “Matilda’s father needs a new meal,” and would further bet that his new meal came back with some “special sauce” from the kitchen on it.

        You just don’t do that kind of thing. Unless you’re dealing with a giant corporation, you have to assume that your complaint will be connected with your family member who works there. If it means lowering your expectations for the sake of a special occasion (in the case of my father), or biting your tongue when you have a complaint (in the case of the OP), so be it.

        1. Browser*

          Was there something legitimately wrong with the meal? Because it’s unrealistic to think that employee’s family members should put up with substandard service/goods just because.

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            I think it was not as hot as he would have liked. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was definitely something that fell more into the line of personal preference or minor annoyance than anything that was legitimately wrong with the meal. And in other restaurants, in other circumstances, I would have no problem with him asking to have his food warmed up, but in that restaurant, in that circumstance, I wish he had just let it go.

            Same with the OP. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with complaining about a store’s prices, but context matters, and if the “customer” is also the “spouse of an employee,” it’s worth considering the possible impact on the employee.

      2. LBK*

        This is weird to me, honestly. Who cares if someone’s relative complains? Beyond truly abusive/disruptive behavior, I don’t expect my employees to control their family members’ actions as they pertain to work.

        1. Hospitality anon*

          The expectation being that if you’re staying in a hotel for $30 (or free), you don’t raise a stink about things.

          Or smoke weed indoors. Had that happen before too. Took the employee with me to assist in evicting her aunt and cousin who were visiting from out of town.

    5. borealchrys*

      It seems to me that this really depends of the size of the business and the spouse’s role. It makes a difference whether it’s the local yarn store / bookstore / hardware store with maybe a dozen employees or a sprawling national home electronics chain where the spouse just happens to work as a database administrator, accountant or gardener (that is, not even in touch with the sales side).

      1. Myrin*

        I thought the same thing.

        My sister works at a supermarket with about 600 stores and about 15.000 employees in all of Germany and I don’t know that, if I complained about something to their headquarters, they’d immediately search their employee database to know if our name shows up there in same capacity. (I’ll have to ask her when I get home later, maybe she’d know this.) That being said, if I complained – and I mean formally, in writing, as it happened here, not just some random complain-y remark to one of my sister’s coworkers – directly at the store she works at, they’d certainly immediately connect our names.

        Also, “customer care department” sounds like this might have been an online helpdesk kind of thing? In which case this would be even farther removed from the wife, unless she actually worked in this very same department.

        None of which matters with regards to the actual question of whether her employer can act on this information, of course.

        1. Hospitality anon*

          “Also, “customer care department” sounds like this might have been an online helpdesk kind of thing? In which case this would be even farther removed from the wife, unless she actually worked in this very same department.”

          You’d be surprised. When people make complaints like this to corporate Customer Care in my company, they just send it right back out for the property manager to handle.

          1. Xarcady*

            This. The store I work at has a link on their main web page to tell Corporate about your last visit. Trust me, the store manager gets all of those–and is expected to deal with any complaints immediately.

            Those on-line responses are taken much, much more seriously than anything a customer says to an employee and that the employee reports up the chain of command. I can tell my manager that 12 customers have complained about X. Nothing happens. One on-line complaint–X is fixed immediately, all employees are notified about the fix and monitored to make sure they are following the new procedure, and the fix is examined at the next visit by District/Corporate managers.

            1. General Ginger*

              That’s how it worked at spouse’s last job. Any online complaints like that went directly to the store managers to deal with ASAP, and the number of such complaints directly affected their ability to get a raise.

            2. LBK*

              But for a complaint about pricing? What’s a store-level manager who doesn’t control prices going to do about that?

              1. Hospitality anon*

                “thanks for reaching out. We do understand and apologize for this, and hope that we can better serve you in the future”. Then you email Customer Care back and that’s usually the end of it.

              2. Newbie*

                In the store I work at, if someone complains about prices (even in an online complaint) those are sent over to our store where the people who working that day will be reprimanded for not going over current sales, coupons, offering them our store credit card (for more coupons), etc etc. It seems over the top, but depending on how they handle complaints, this could very well lead back to the wife.

                1. CMart*

                  That all tracks with my time spent in corporate restaurants.

                  It might not “lead back to the wife” in that corporate HQ will boom down from on high that she needs to be dealt with in some way. But it is easily conceivable that her location’s managers will see that her spouse’s name was on the week’s list of complaints. That could lead to whatever degree of “seriously, Wife, please don’t make trouble for us” they find appropriate.

              3. General Ginger*

                What Newbie said. Clearly if a customer is complaining about pricing, the employees must not be pushing the store credit card/rewards program, used items, etc, hard enough.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  No, no. It’s more often “You’re not explaining the real value we offer in exchange for those prices!” (Because knowing how much Walgreens has donated to local charities is going to placate me after I notice they bumped up their prices on Rockstar Recovery again and I have the kind of hangover where you need sunglasses to get into the refrigerator and I need fucking it.)

          2. SilverRadicand*

            Yep, I get these help desk complaints periodically and if I got one from an employee’s family member, I would certainly be reconsidering the path of that employee’s future employment. And it would simply be from self-preservation. If this person being on staff means I’m going to have to deal with complaints going to corporate, then while that isn’t technically a “performance problem” it certainly is a liability to having that employee that I would have to consider.

            1. Myrin*

              I guess I’m just really not understanding that kind of thinking. I could kind of understand it if your employee’s family member sent a complaint your way every other day – that would be a huge hassle and supremely annoying (although still not harmful, which is what “self-preservation” suggests to me). But a single complaint? About something that doesn’t have anything at all to do with the employee (like in this case, which is about prices)? About something that probably tons of people complain about, whether their spouse works at the company or not?
              (I’m adding the last sentence because there are certainly situations where an employer is targeted in some way specifically because the spouse or family member works there but I’d assume that OP would complain about the outrageous prices of any old store, whether wife works there or not.)

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Retailing is a paranoid environment. Every little thing becomes huge. After a bit common sense steps out the door. Retailers here will not report a dog or kids in a hot car. Don’t tick off the customer. If the customer brings a dog into a store where no animals are allowed, no one says anything because “don’t tick off the customer.”
                I had three people lecture me for 2o minutes because I punched in one minute early. Yes, 1 full hour of pay roll spend on discussion 1 minute of payroll. There is no logic.

            2. LBK*

              Yikes. I wildly disagree with that line of thinking. Handling customer complaints is part of the job, and you should be addressing them like any other complaints regardless of who they come from – you shouldn’t treat holding your employee’s career back as some kind of “get out of jail free” card to knock one customer off your complaint list. And moreover, why would you think that firing your employee would stop their relative from complaining anyway?

              We’ve had cases where spouses/relatives are actually barging into offices and causing loud, sometimes violent disruptions, and even then I think it’s on really shaky ground to penalize the employee for it. Managing an employee based on their relative doing something completely normal like submitting a complaint, which you’ll always have to deal with in a customer-facing role anyway? That’s horrible.

              1. AMPG*

                This is an excellent point – if a customer has enough of an issue with a store to complain to corporate, firing their spouse over it isn’t exactly going to repair the relationship and stop the complaints. Don’t forget about Brad’s wife who was fired from Cracker Barrel.

              2. CMart*

                I super agree that it’s a horrible line of thinking.

                It’s just really, really common among the overworked, underpaid, cutthroat world of corporate service/retail management on the local level. It stinks.

            3. Stop That Goat*

              That just sounds like you’re trying to get out of working by cutting off a complaint source regardless of it’s validity.

        2. Agatha31*

          Sister maybe not but spouse has several factors that could make the link more likely to be made, whether manually or by a recording system somewhere: email address, mailing address, last name – heck in a larger company via name may even be in the system for several reasons, e.g. registered for family employee benefits. Regardless of the actual outcome though, I think op needs to a) seriously consider the lines they crossed here, b) grovel, and c) really seriously put more thought into actions that concern their spouse in any way in the future. Because that I think is the key issue here: by not only doing this, but also by writing in (suggesting that op was at least half convinced they were right) op has shown a serious lack of judgement, and of consideration for spouse’s opinion and feelings in a situation that very much was their business, and likely a lack of remorse or of understanding their spouse’s feelings about this post-event as well. If this were someone in my life, it would be upsetting not only because of the incident itself, but because even if nothing happens in *this* case, what other future decisions or actions might op take without consulting me that may seriously affect me? What other disagreements will arise where my feelings afterwards are dismissed because op doesn’t think its a big deal? Sorry to be so blunt op, but to me this would be a pretty damn big red flag of a boundary violation.

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Sure that is possible, but is it really likely? How many businesses out there cross reference customer complaints again employee emergency contact and beneficiary information on the off chance it is an employee’s relative?

            1. JB*

              Depends how unique their names are. A complaint by customer John Smith wouldn’t necessarily get connected to employee Jane Smith, but one from customer John Wakalixy would definitely get connected to employee Jane Wakalixy.

              1. LBK*

                I think it’s wildly unlikely they’d be linked even in that case, unless this is in a very small store in a small community. Systems just aren’t set up like this – employee and customer records are generally kept in completely separate systems, so it would be a lot of manual work, and if this is a big chain the complaints are probably going to corporate, who wouldn’t know the names of individual store workers off the top of their heads. Guaranteed no one at a corporate retail HQ is spending time looking up the last names of people who file complaints in the employee database. Beyond being a general waste of time, it wouldn’t serve any purpose other than basically being cruel – why should an employee be punished for their relative making a complaint?

                1. Myrin*

                  As is so often the case, you said it much better than I did (or tried to). I mean, the OP asked about whether the company can retaliate, to which the answer is sure, they can. But also… is this really something that happens a lot and one must reasonably fear?

                2. SilverRadicand*

                  Eh, I think the main thing is that many of these help desk type of complaints get sent to the store or location managers and can be rather high profile (as they often get sent to the regional manager first). The store manager will often be able to recognize a last name simply and with the heat to solve the problem that can comes with a complaint coming down from corporate, the store manager is often going to have to account for the headache of dealing with the complaint when they consider the employee’s employment and advancement.

                3. LBK*

                  @SilverRadicand – I seriously doubt a general pricing complaint would be filtered down to a store level since there’s nothing the store can do about it; that’s something I would refer someone back to corporate on if they made a complaint about it in-store. And while some managers might take the headache into account when judging their employees, I think that would be extremely wrong and bad management. Controlling your spouse shouldn’t be part of your work performance; you should only be judging someone on headaches caused by their direct actions, not who they married.

                4. Stardust*

                  @Silver, my problem is that I’m not understanding how one would even find out which store specifically a complaint is about. This was done by email and unless the OP mentioned their location or named the specific store in some way that email could have come from absolutely anyone, so there is no local manager to forward to. Not to mention that it was about something that doesn’t pertain to only one store anyway, prices.

        3. BWooster*

          If your sister’s chain works like mine did, they’ll forward the complaint to the store mentioned directly and ask the SM to deal with it. Assuming the letter mentioned a specific store, rather than complained about the whole chain, the SM is going to find out about it and will have no issue connecting it to the employee.

          1. Myrin*

            Aha, I didn’t know that! I’ll certainly have to ask her if she knows if that’s how it’d work here, too!

            1. Myrin*

              Oh wait, I just realised I misread! You talk about “the store mentioned” in which case yeah, it’s totally not surprising that corporate would take a complaint about them up with a particular store. I was thinking mor about a general complaint like “whenever I buy tech equipment from you, it’s always rubbish” or whatever, nothing that has anything to do with one specific store.

              1. TurquoiseCow*

                If they’re talking about pricing, it’s likely they mentioned a specific store. (Assuming it’s a large chain not just a little shop).

                I worked in pricing for many years at a corporate retail office, and we sometimes had pricing complaints forwarded to us. Most often the letters began something like, “I’ve been shopping at your store in East Nowheresville for umpteen years and why is your milk so pricy? You charged $8 for a gallon, and the Competitor Store down the road had the same dang brand for $7.75! Please consider fixing this or I’ll never return to spend my usual large amount of money.”

                I don’t know the format of the letter here, but most chain stores don’t have the same pricing in all stores, so it would make sense to name the location. Also, our customer service department would often follow up with such complaints (and I’ve seen other companies do so via social media) with something like: “Oh, we’re sorry to hear you had a bad experience! Can you let us know which store you shop at?” (If it’s a specific customer service issue like cleanliness or a bad employee interaction, they may also ask for time or day. )

                1. LBK*

                  What’s the point, though? Individual stores in big chains don’t generally control their own pricing.

          2. SophieChotek*

            Yup ditto.
            If there is a complaint to corporate about my specific store (out of 100s in the coffee chain where I work) my manager at the coffee shop where I work immediately si forwarded the complaint (including contact information, like email addresses) so that she can address the issue/contact the person complaining and either offer to make it right (or clarify a policy, I suppose, if the customer is wrong. Not that she would – she always bends over backwards to please the customer even if the customer is wrong, but anyway….) So my manager would see the original email address. Plus then my manager would have to report back to her manager/corporate how she resolved the issue/responded to the complaint.

        4. Artemesia*

          But the big clue in the OP’s letter here is that the WIFE is upset about it. End of issue. No one should ever do anything like this involving the spouse’s job without clearing it with the spouse. Period.

      2. always in email jail*

        Regardless of whether or not they find out it’s him, there seems to be agreement that if they did it would DEFINITELY not be great, which I think is the wife’s point. Why would he do something that would even RISK that happening?

        1. Grey*

          Especially when it’s rather pointless. Is he really expecting them to respond by lowering their prices? Probably not, which means the only point of the letter is to say “I don’t like what you did”. The only action to take here is either none, or talk to his wife.

        2. LBK*

          I guess I’m not understanding what people think the company will do to the wife if they associate her with the OP’s complaint. It would be bizarre and cruel to take it out on her somehow – mostly because companies tend to receive a ton of customer complaints, so to be vindictive about one particular complaint would be insanely petty.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Well, we’ve seen lots of examples of petty supervisors here, so…

            I don’t think it’s going to get to the point of anyone firing her or flat out saying “Sorry, you don’t get a promotion because your husband complained.” But it is possible, no matter how unfounded, that she’ll be considered “not a team player” or “potential troublemaker.”

            1. LBK*

              I’ve worked for some crappy retail managers in my day and I just don’t think that’s likely enough to worry about. Customer complaints are so common, especially about pricing, that it’s just not worth the energy on the managers’ part to bother getting upset with the employee about.

          2. Gen*

            ‘Insanely petty’ hahaha that’s how I’d describe two of my retail managers. If the stores are rated by how many complaints come in (even if it’s company wide stuff like pricing or decor) then he’s just made their rating worse. Manager makes the link and it becomes a case of ‘why can’t you control your spouse? That tipped us over the edge for a bonus, % score, special badge, whatever’. Satisifaction contests can be taken very seriously in some places. A friends father is a serial complainer and his kids have definitely been held responsible for his actions in the past :/

            1. LBK*

              If the OP’s wife is working for assholes like that then her husband’s complaints are probably the least of her issues.

              1. Artemesia*

                There are a lot of assholes in positions of authority. Spouses just have no business messing with their partner’s job. They can go be a jerk at some other organization.

                1. LBK*

                  I don’t see how filing a presumably valid complaint is “being a jerk,” assuming the letter the OP sent wasn’t abusively phrased or anything like that.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Obviously. You don’t fire them, you merely threaten to fire them if they don’t get their family member back in line. If they can’t, then you fire them, in the hopes that the family member will react by “never shopping here again!”

                Source: I worked in retail for too long. :(

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Oh they can do lots of things. Cut her hours in half, give her the silent treatment, put her on crappy hours only, leave the nasty tasks no one likes for her to do. They can also set unreasonable deadlines for tasks and then write her when she does not get it done. They can inform her that she is no longer eligible for any promotions, ever. And don’t bother asking for a transfer either. And I have only started to list off all that can be done here.

      3. Temperance*

        I totally disagree. Can you imagine if your spouse wrote a letter to your company, letting them know that they disagreed with a policy / action / product?

        Neither of us changed our names upon marriage, but if my husband had the nerve to write to the Managing Partner of my law firm and say that he hated that we defended a certain person (or something comparable), it would be my ass. This dude had to know that writing in to whine about prices would impact his wife.

        1. LBK*

          I can imagine it, and my reaction is…so? I don’t think your example is comparable because most stores hear complaints about prices every day. The OP’s action wasn’t a moral judgment addressed to an inappropriate person to receive that kind of feedback – it was a completely standard retail complaint sent to a department whose purpose is receiving those kinds of complaints.

          1. Kate 2*

            Stores actually take complaints really seriously. A whole store has the number of complaints against them recorded, and as Gen mentioned above it can seriously affect the entire store. At ours, we all knew if we had sales too low for example, our store manager would be fired and replaced, and we employees would be “laid off”. Complaints are treated similarly.

            1. LBK*

              It would be batshit insane to me to penalize a store for a general complaint about pricing. I’m sure there’s companies that do it but I don’t know what they intend to accomplish by it since I don’t know of a chain where individual stores set their own prices. Corporate would be penalizing a store for something they themselves control.

              Low sales are completely different, of course the store manager is accountable to those numbers. That’s their whole job.

              1. General Ginger*

                LBK, at my spouse’s former job, a complaint about prices (at a chain where stores don’t set their own prices) would very likely be sent to the store manager as a “you’re not coaching your staff well enough on pushing the store credit card/rewards program/promotions”.

              2. Ego Chamber*

                “Corporate would be penalizing a store for something they themselves control.”

                Welcome to retail. And food service. And call centers. (I can keep going for a while, I’ve had a lot of truly “batshit insane” jobs.)

            2. TootsNYC*

              I filed a complaint online about the Home Depot near me when it was completely out of the shelf standards I wanted to buy.

              The store manager called me at home to try to rectify it!

      4. Starbuck*

        You’re right that it depends. The wife/employee is probably the best one to judge what kind of impact this could have on her… since from the letter it sounds like she’s concerned, I’m assuming she’s got a good reason for that.

    6. Retail Gal*

      A small caveat is if you have a complaint along the lines of “I was treated reaalllly badly by a particular associate(s),” or perhaps bringing a safety/OSHA-type problem to the company’s powers-that-be. But to complain about pricing? That’s the nature of the beast, and I’m 95% sure no one in that store has control over it, and that decision would come down from corporate.

      (I’m making an assumption this is a larger chain-type store, considering the LW alludes to the customer care line)

      1. LBK*

        Right – this is such a standard complaint for most retailers that the OP is probably going just going to get a form letter back that says something along the lines of “we price our products competitively, these are reasons to shop here over our competitors who might be cheaper, this is our price matching policy.” The odds of a general complaint like this even making it to an individual store level are low, because what is that store even going to do about it? Pricing is controlled by corporate.

    7. Rusty Shackelford*

      I seem to remember some other recent LW who didn’t understand why they couldn’t just keep their roles separate (i.e., you can get mad that I’m Employee’s husband, because I complained as a customer, not a spouse), but I can’t remember the details.

      1. Elfie*

        Wow, my husband wrote to my business a couple of jobs ago (it was a big restaurant/pub chain with many brands), and it was definitely a deserving complaint. I didn’t care (my surname is incredibly uncommon, and I was reasonably well-known within the company – at least at HQ), and there is literally no way they wouldn’t have known about the relationship. I didn’t care because the complaint was justified, I’m in the UK (so I had a contract, and they can’t just fire you if they dislike something your spouse does), and he’s a complainer, so I was just happy he was complaining to someone else, not me. In his defense, he also wrote a really complimentary letter to one of the other brands, which they posted in the staff room. Also in his defense, he really did cut down the complaining when I worked there.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      Unless it’s a really big company, I wouldn’t think they would connect him to his wife just because the email address has the same last name. Especially if the wife works in a different department. I imagine an email like that would just get a stock “sorry for your inconvenience” reply and not given a second thought, unless he was extremely rude in what he wrote.

    9. Artemesia*

      I would be livid if my husband pulled a stunt like this. It is hard to imagine anyone not seeing that this was undermining of the spouse’s position and hence hard to imagine that it was not a hostile act against his wife. Sometimes there is a situation you can’t help. I actually knew someone who had the wrong kidney removed at a hospital where her husband was an intern. I don’t know how it all sorted out, but she was afraid to sue because of his work while it seemed to me that since they had essentially condemned her to an early death, and huge ongoing expenses that a suit was the least she could do. But this OP did this knowing it would damage his wife or at least should have known and it was not something he needed to do to write a serious wrong to himself.

  3. fposte*

    I’m scratching my head a little at #2; part of my staff are students staffing a library, and I wouldn’t think of the new intake as always learning (in contradistinction to being competent, anyway). There’s some onboarding but they’re coached pretty carefully by the more experienced student employees and are up to speed pretty quickly. I don’t think people expect them to know everything but they handle situations with skill and confidence. So what is it they’re falling short on, and is it something you can remediate with different hiring or training? In my experience under using the experienced students is pretty common– can you majpke their training of the newbies more systematic? (And there’s a manual, right? If not, request one be made post-haste.)

    1. Amy*

      Yeah, I worked in my college’s library during undergrad, and it really wasn’t difficult to figure out. The first time I did a task, either my boss or a more experienced student worker would show me how to do it, and that was usually plenty for me to catch on (student work in libraries is mostly very straightforward and routine–shelve books, scan barcodes to check things in/out, help patrons navigate the stacks, etc.).

      It took me a couple weeks to feel confident my first year there, but that wasn’t something my boss could have fixed! It was mostly that it was a new job starting at the same time as a new semester with new classes and all that, and that much change all at once puts me (and many people, I think) a little on edge. My initial unease also didn’t affect my ability to do my job effectively, and I think that was true for my peers as well, for the most part. If your students’ actual performance is a concern, I think offering additional training resources will help; if you’re just worried about them feeling bad about being new, time and experience will handle that better than you can.

      1. SophieChotek*

        I agree. I worked at my library during university too – checking out books, returning book, shelving books, shelving periodicals, shelving microfilm, etc. It was not that hard – we had a short training manual (that I later greatly expanded after i became a student supervisor)…and usually there was a staff member nearby if there was an issue we could not answer, but the routine ones made up the bulk of the questions.

        1. Amy*

          Yep! The most common question I remember getting was “Can you help me find X?” Which, since we spent so much time shelving books, was usually pretty easy to do. (Not to mention, there were lots of guides available on how to find things–mostly made for library patrons, not staff, but you could easily grab a sheet and walk someone through it.)

        2. Nolan*

          I never worked for a library, but my time at Blockbuster Video was similar. We had one day of class-style training, and then you’d go to your first day in store and shadow someone who’d show you all the basics. Experienced staff would show you how to do something, then have you do it next and provide guidance as needed. But things like shelving movies and processing returns were largely done unsupervised, even on your first day, because it only took three minutes to learn how to do them properly. By the end of the first week (working part time) the average new hire could be trusted to do all the regular tasks of the job unsupervised. And then the unusual items are addressed as they come up.

          OP, if your new hires are taking weeks to learn the job, you need to reevaluate training. They should be learning the basics in their first two days, so you should try to schedule them with that in mind. Get your experienced staff to show them the ropes, you can’t/shouldn’t be doing all the training yourself. Hand them off to your best employees, give those employees training experience, and get your new hires up to speed faster.

      2. Anonymoose*

        Exactly. Most of the tasks student assistants will cover are pretty basic and could probably be covered by a one or two day orientation training, say in a computer lab. What else will REALLY help (which we did for our large student assistant population) was create an online knowledge base where students can not only create reference articles but also pose questions in a forum attached to the KPs. This doesn’t have to be an expensive tool either. There are tons of task management/forum tools out there, both free and paid.

        Our students were trained super efficiently and they seemed to really appreciate the interaction of fellow student assistants and gave them a feeling of task ownership when they suggested new ways to managing a task. Just something to consider.

    2. xyz*

      I would add to that, make sure there’s a clear delineation of roles if that’s not already the case. e.g. Reference requests always go to the librarian on duty. Sometimes when you’re new, you want to be helpful and have a go at any task, even if it’s actually out of your competencies/job description.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. Don’t step on those particular toes (or Reprographics! or Acquisitions! or Preservations!). Working in Circulation is akin to being a cog in the shadows of a much more complex machine. It’s a comfy place and fulfills a necessary task and student employees are not failures or embarrassments because their role and practical knowledge are limited to a few elementary functions.

    3. rj*

      I think academic and academic-adjacent parts of higher ed are notorious for not training. (Can’t speak to more admin heavy areas). It is not helpful. Since it’s a library, a 2 hr training workshop (my work-study students in the past had the opportunity to use some hours to be used for training, or would work reduced hours the weeks they were getting training) and a manual would probably be enough.

    4. Kalamet*

      I worked for my university’s tech support organization (which employed hundreds of students, many of whom were new at a given time).

      They had a two-day training for new hires that covered the basics, a series of video and text trainings we could go through on our shifts, and an extensive FAQ with many of the most common questions. In addition to all that, your first few shift rotations would be in locations that had a supervisor student worker, so you could ask them for help.

      OP, you don’t have to do *all* of this, but there are plenty of options beyond letting the students learn as they go. The more experienced students may be able to help you put together documentation, since they’d have a good idea of what new folks need to know.

    5. Anonygoose*

      Yeah, I think they need to think more about having formalized training, like a training day followed by job shadowing. It’s very confidence-breaking to be thrown into a new job without any sort of training, especially when you are dealing with customers. I don’t think your employees would be very happy about not knowing the answers to any of the questions they’ll get – it’s far better to teach them 50% of the job and then learn everything else piece by piece than to have to start from scratch.

      Also, there’s nothing wrong with them saying “I’m not sure, but let me find out for you”. Most of your customers aren’t going to have a problem with dealing with a very helpful trainee. Just make sure it’s not “I dunno, I’m new here. Ask Jane instead”.

      1. aebhel*

        Yep. We don’t have a formal training day at our library, but we do have new desk staff (and actually all staff who might end up on the desk, up to and including our recently hired director) shadow an experienced person until they know all the basics. Are there still some more obscure tasks they might need help with? Sure, but it’s not going to be every little thing.

      2. myswtghst*

        While I’m not in a library, I do train new employees (for call center roles) and I always tell them up front that, at best, I’m going to teach them 80% of what they need to know, starting with how to use their resources effectively to find the answers to the questions they commonly receive. It’s important to remember that you can’t teach them every question that might come up, but you can help them know who to ask or where to look.

        I’d also agree with your second paragraph – I specifically tell my newbies not to say “oh, I’m new” because it tends to undermine anything they say after that. Saying “Great question, let me find out for you” is much more effective in my experience, especially if they follow up by finding the answer.

      3. Sam*

        Shadowing can be super effective! I worked in an archive as a student, and they had each new person shadow one of the longer-tenured, reliable student workers. The experienced folks had to confirm you were solid on the central job tasks before you could go solo. Obviously, unfamiliar stuff would pop up, but if you’re comfortable with even 80% of the job, it dramatically cuts down on the number of times you have to apologize for not knowing something.

    6. I prefer tea*

      Haven’t finished my morning tea yet and when I read your last line ” can you majpke their training”, I didn’t recognize the typo (majpke/make) and was really hoping that “majpike” was a new word I just haven’t come across yet.

      I really wanted to use it in conversation today.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, it’s a Dutch loan word meaning “organize in a library.” Okay, no, it’s a late-night typo, but if you can pronounce it feel free to pretend :-).

    7. aebhel*

      Same. I work in a public library, not a university library, but it’s not like the tasks involved are just a random collection of unpredictable things; there are some tasks you’re going to encounter frequently, and it makes sense to be trained on them before they come up. This just sounds like throwing someone in the deep end to either figure it out or track someone down and ask for help–no wonder people get frustrated!

    8. JN*

      Exactly. At the university library where I work, there’s a start of the school year mandatory student worker training session, where key basic tasks/FAQ’s are covered. Each student also has a personal binder with that and additional information, as well as info on their specific assigned tasks. But their manager and other staff/librarians like me are also around to help answer questions as they come up. OP2 was right that not every “what if” can (or should) be covered in trainings. Some stuff is just so strange or rare that there’s no need for advance training on them, and then on-the-spot training can handle those situations as they arise.

      1. fposte*

        And the strange and rare stuff will happen no matter how long you’ve been there, so it’s not unique to first-year staff. But I really like your personal binder idea–that’s a really helpful approach!

        1. agatha31*

          I’ve never worked in a library but I have worked in a plethora of jobs that require answering questions all freaking day long! In the past, I worked at terrible places, places like box stores, that never allowed us to say “I don’t know.” The really shitty thing about this is that *that’s all they ever said*. Not “don’t say x because y” or “say y instead of x.” So we were a bunch of minimum wage employees with no management guidance as to wtf we were doing, and we pissed off the customers and were miserable, because not saying “I don’t know” ISN’T THE FREAKING PROBLEM. Kind of.

          Yeah, that’s right. Years later, by fumbling around, and by watching what people were doing who *were* good with people (who couldn’t alway tell me the difference themselves between what I was doing and what they were doing, because it just came naturally to them) I’ve figured it out on my own, and I AGREE, but only because I know the entire lesson, not just the dumb part.

          Two things are absolutely going to kill it for you (in the good way) for customer service, whatever point at your career you’re in (because if you know every answer to every question in your job… aren’t you kinda bored??), but definitely massively helpful for when you first start and every customer approaching you can feel like a moment of terror.

          #1: Phrasing

          As discussed, “I don’t know” is actually a bad thing to say – because that’s not an answer. And that’s what they’re actually asking you. Even if they say “do you know x?” what they’re *really* asking you is “please help me find the answer to x.” Some of the answers are going to be things you can write down in a FAQ/manual for new employees, things they can memorize. But I suspect that in op’s field, like mine, there’s always going to be questions popping up that are either outside their job’s knowledge base, obscure, or unusual. This is where you need to know how to tell a person “I don’t know” without saying it, AND lead into item #2 of killing it:


          Holy shit, guys, it’s such a catch phrase-y word that while I was in that shitty job I hated it. But again, if they’d bothered *explaining* to us (or supporting us with any sort of knowledge base whatsoever) – this is a valid and super awesome skill to develop. If you can’t provide something personally, that doesn’t mean you’re done. It is *still your problem to solve*, you’re just going to have to learn how to find the path to that answer. And if you’re good at it, a customer is going to notice you doing the work of finding out for them. They *love* that. I mean think about it, wouldn’t you?

          Let’s take a really basic example. Here’s what you do before you know this shit:

          1: Do you have any butter?
          2: No.
          1: Do you know when you will?
          2: I don’t know. (or “No” if some idiot banned “I don’t know” and DIDN’T EXPLAIN WHY)
          1: Do you know who does?
          2: I don’t know. (or “No”, see above)

          After, it’s:

          1: Do you have any butter?
          2: We’ve actually run out at the moment, but if you have a minute, I can check in the back.
          OR 2: I do know we’re supposed to get a new shipment in tonight – we can’t really guarantee it but if you call in when we open at 8am tomorrow we can confirm with you then. I start at 9 and if you’d like you can ask for me – Aaron A. Aaronson – I’ll make sure to check when I start.
          OR 2: I’m so sorry, we’ve actually had a really busy day today and unfortunately we’re temporarily out of stock. But I do know the store 3 blocks away has some right now.
          OR 2: I’m so sorry, unfortunately the recent butter shortage means we’re having trouble keeping it in stock, and my understanding is all the stores in town are in the same situation. However my co-worker Erin is a great baker and I’ve heard her discussing possible substitutions with other customers, if you’d like to talk to her before you leave.

          And now I work in an office, and although I don’t sell butter anymore, this still works exactly the same way. We use phrases like:

          “That’s not actually my area of expertise, but if you’ll hold a moment, I can check with my colleague.”
          “I’m not actually in the loop on that project, and the manager who’s currently involved is in a meeting, but if you’ll leave your name and number I’ll follow up with them and one of us can get back to you. I expect he’s going to be about an hour, but if you don’t hear back you’re definitely welcome to check back with us as well.”
          “I don’t have the information for that file on hand at the moment, and I’m afraid we get a bit swamped at the end of the month. Is it okay if I take your name and number and call you back with that information next week?”
          “We don’t actually cover that area of expertise, but we have worked with a couple other companies who do, and I’d be happy to email you contact names and numbers, or even email them with a cc to you to introduce you to each other if that’s better for you.”

          All of the above *are* pretty much summed up as “Iunno!” but in professional language, *and* taking ownership of the work of following up, so you take the burden off that person’s shoulders and they (assuming they’re reasonable people, you *do* follow up to the best of your ability, and/or your company isn’t shit at helping people in general) are going to adore the hell out of you for it. IT’S FREAKING MAGIC, GUYS. How do I know? Because I’m doing a much harder, much more complicated job than that any stupid big box job years ago (no offense to the big box employees btw, I mean the management who can be god awful, which means I just respect y’all all the more when you’re really good at what you do), and it’s easier for me, and I’ve *never* been so good at sending people away happy even when I *can’t* give them the answer – because even when, at the end of the line, it turns out I can’t get them what they need, I’ve given them some seriously good customer service. I’ve taken on the work of finding the answer. I’ve set expectations and provided updates regularl and made sure they know what *I’ve* done, so that they at least know I’ve exhausted all my personal avenues and they can try elsewhere.

          In past jobs I had terrible performance reviews and never, ever got raises, awards, etc. In this job I am praised to the heavens, my performance review is a panic attack on my boss’s part when I can’t be at the office, and I have received many cards and even small gifts, and a vast plethora of enthusiastic praise and thanks, both to me and to my boss (yeah!) throughout the years from many, many clients, even if I haven’t been able to give them what they asked for. I still avoid customer service like the plague, but in this job, I *LOVE* helping people!

          On another note, this is an attitude that should also apply between co-workers. As mentioned, if my co-workers who were better than me had been able to tell me what they were doing(!) – we all would have benefited – them with a better co-worker, me with an easier job, the customers with a better service provider, and my employer with a better employee. And that’s *just* talking about me, and I was at least trying. There were so many terrible employees who just didn’t even bother because there was no guidance. If the employers didn’t care, why should they?

          So I wonder, as there are always new people, there must also always be “not new” people, yes? I presume (and hope?) that the mix on the schedule is always such that the new ones aren’t ever left on their own. As such, I would suggest (in addition to a manual as others have suggested, which can contain frequent and common questions, expectations and routines) encouraging a casual, scaling/revolving mentorship type relationship between older employees and new. Not a “senior/junior” type relationship necessarily, but a an atmosphere in which the newer understand when and who to approach in order to assist clients they can’t answer directly. As the new ones advance, they can replace those who leave in those mentor roles – and if this is just how it works, eventually it can become a self-perpetuating culture. And you in your turn should be there to mentor the mentors as they learn *those* ropes as well.

          The awesome thing about all this – phrasing, ownership, and mentor relationships – is that if you can get your employees on board, these are skills that will follow them through their entire. damn. life.

    9. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I was also surprised by this one. I have six student employees and there is a very steep learning curve, but I would say they rise to the challenge astonishingly well. I would encourage the letter writer to consider a buddy system. With new students, I have them work with experienced students for a few weeks to learn the ropes. I’d also second the recommendation for a very detailed manual, if you don’t already have one. And new students should certainly never be left alone without someone close by to ask for help when they need it. Students, especially ones who are new to the work world, sometimes need coaching that it is okay to ask for help.

    10. Artemesia*

      Providing customer service in a library is not rocket science; why can’t there be a day of intensive training and a very good FAQ of the most common customer services and issues that the new employee is required to master before the first day of training. I would expect a college student to be capable of delivering 80% from about day 3 with on site on the job training occurring for more unusual occurrences as they come up. Most people require simple service: checking things out, reserving things, being helped to use the catalogue system, location of important reserved materials etc. No reason a newbie can’t have this mastered in a day of training. And use of the on line cataloguing should have an on line tutorial so consumers can be connected with that to learn to do their searches.

    11. petpet*

      I supervise student staff at a university library and I feel similarly to OP #2. We do in-depth training over multiple days and have a robust training manual, but there are dozens and dozens of things that come up weekly if not daily beyond the basics of checking out and shelving books. Here’s where we keep paper from the public printers, which is a different stash than staff printers; this particular reserve DVD has a worksheet to go with it; here’s the form if someone claims they returned a book but it isn’t checked in; this very popular database is not accessible off-campus; if someone needs change for the copier send them to the cafe down the hall; here’s the number to call if a lightbulb burns out; this is the online system for reserving study rooms; etc etc etc.

      We go over these things during training but it’s more than anyone could be expected to remember on the first try, so the students do learn a lot on the job for their first month or so. We try to give them as many tools as possible to figure things out themselves, but it does take some figuring out and a lot of questions to me on the fly.

      1. LibraryLand*

        I get where OP#2 is coming from as well. I supervise about 25 undergrads in a university library. We are the traditional media center along with an in-house digitization department. The new students do not train on circ until they’ve worked for a couple weeks and are used to coming into work, LC call numbers, shelving, all the other work unrelated to circ/help desk, etc. Then they are slowly introduced to circ – first checking things in and out, our reserves, and then the odd/more in-depth check outs/helping patrons.

        It’s like this so we don’t overwhelm them with information, but it sucks for them because if someone asks them something they really don’t know the answer/have to get another student.

        Manuals help to a point, along with pairing them up, but a lot of it you’ll have to gain from experience.

        1. Gyrfalcon*

          I work at a college and use the library frequently. It’s completely unremarkable to me if the student working the desk goes to get someone else to help them with whatever circulation request I’ve inadvertently stumped them with.

          There’s absolutely no need for the student to say “I’m new” during any part of this.

    12. De Minimis*

      I like the idea of shadowing, combined with a manual. With student workers you tend to have a lot of knowledge walking out the door when a longtime student leaves, and it’s good to have training materials.

      I work with a lot of student employees, I don’t know how it is at the OP’s location, but I know where I work [not a library] it would take way too much time from regular staff to do an extended organized training.

    13. libbeth*

      This! Training manual + duties checklist helps a lot. During grad school, I worked in the university’s music library (was not a music student, though) during the summers, and they had a really tidy system going of a list of things you did immediately upon beginning your shift, and a handbook by the desk reminding you how to do the things you perhaps did not do on a daily basis. This was in addition to my training/orientation shift.

      Now, I was kind of in constant-learning mode because I’d get loaned out to other people pretty regularly (the music librarians found grad students super-useful), so if processing was shorthanded, they’d borrow me, or if something was being readied for digitization, I’d get landed on that. So I was always learning new tasks, but since these were behind-the-scenes, it didn’t affect my ability to help clients. IDK if that’s the case for these students, though.

    14. oranges & lemons*

      From the description, I got the impression that it’s an environment where the staff has to field a wide range of idiosyncratic questions/situations and it’s hard to anticipate them all. But I suspect there’s room to make the training more comprehensive anyway.

    15. MyInnerDemonLikesCookies*

      I’m a librarian and a manager in a public library — and I understanding about learning on the job, but that’s why I always create a training list and try to anticipate as many FAQs or situations that come up. If it seems like a particular question or issue keeps coming up with new hires, then it’s easy to add that to the FAQs. This is also why I believe in some shadowing, because sometimes another staff member will know something that can be really helpful — like, “In this room, we get a lot of questions about teapots, so let me show you where those books are.”

      No matter how well I might train, though, there are always things that come up. We tell staff to say “I’m not sure, but let me find out /find someone who can help” and then take the patron and find some assistance. I’m a big fan of “taking” and “showing” instead of “pointing and/or gesturing.”

      1. Schleichee*

        Hi. I’m the question asker, and I have plenty of the suggested resources for my students at the ready. I guess maybe my intent is more to control the knee-jerk response to start with an apology (“sorry, I’m new”) . I feel like it more often puts the customer in the place of “oh great, I’m gonna be here forever while they figure it out” instead of a more confident version that might sound a bit more like “I’m not sure, let me ask”.
        My office is mere feet away from all the action and my door is open – and most often – I’m within earshot of all questions.

        Most of the replies are variations on the theme of how my library runs and how we do a lot of things. I simply have a short hiring window and long hours to cover to get a staff completely up to speed – and that’s limited by my ability to be at work 191 hours a week.

        Thanks for all the input. I’ll keep reading and seeing if there’s anything I can try.

        1. Gyrfalcon*

          That sounds like a specific training issue on a script for your staff when they’re asked something they don’t know. “Let me check with my manager,” or “I don’t know, I’ll get the staff librarian” or “yes, let me check that for you,” or whatever you want them to say.

          I can’t actually remember what the students say at the local college library (I work at the college, but not in the library), but I’ve often stumped them and it’s completely unremarkable to me when they bring over someone who knows more to help me.

  4. Economist*

    #1 happened at my agency. But it was a con – – the previous supervisor was not giving bonuses to the employee, although she said that was the way things were done. The new supervisor gave her cash, and as soon as management found out, she (the employee) was fired. So, on top of Allison’s concerns, I’d wonder if those cash bonuses really happened.

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking of that – but BOTH of them coming up with the same lie? Unless they decided to collude, in which case, they REALLY need to be fired yesterday.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Possibly, or it could also be that the source of the money wasn’t actually the manager’s own pocket.

        In any event “you need to secretly give us thousands of dollars” is NOT an option here. At all.

        1. Willis*

          Definitely not an option, and not something Jackson should feel guilty about!

          It’s also really strange to me that Abigail and Cynthia would both be so quick to seek him out and inform him of this dubious bonus setup before he’s even officially their manager. The whole situation seems fishy, and should definitely be brought to the director’s attention.

          1. Huntington*

            Yes. It’s setting off all sorts of red flags. BOTH of them contacting him about this under-the-table arrangement of bonuses to the tune of thousands of dollars — and BOTH of them doing so, under-the-table, before he’s technically even their manager/n the clock/payroll/part of the workforce. Nothing happening on company time. Just private conversations among people who don’t have any work connections (yet).

          1. Bagpuss*

            Why? (to Mommy MD’s comment that they should be fired)

            I totally get that if it is a scam as Economist says then they need to be fired, but if what they say is true, and they were getting gifts from their supervisor, why fire thm? I think in most cases it would be reasonable for a more junior employee in that situation to work on the assumption that their manager knew what she was doing, so while it may well be that they ought to have notified someone sooner to meet internal policies, I don’t think it would have been unreasonable for them to assume that their manager had done anything necessary along those lines.

            1. Jennifer M.*

              They are government employees. Most government agencies spend a lot of time explaining to you about bribes, kick-backs or even the perception of shady payments. Thousands of dollars in cash from your boss is shady.

              1. Government Worker*


                In my government agency, financial transactions between employees in the same chain of command are prohibited in the employee code of conduct, including loans of any amount over $50.

                1. De Minimis*

                  We used to not even be allowed to sell Girl Scout Cookies….it was considered soliciting and against the rules [possibly the law, even.]

                  Non-cash gifts were okay if they flowed downward. The only time gifts were allowed from employee to supervisor were special occasions such as weddings, birth of a child, or retirement.

                  We had training explaining these rules during orientation, and sometimes refresher online training regarding the gift policy, though I don’t remember how frequent that took place or if everyone did it.

              2. Government worker*

                I’m sure there’s a written policy about this somewhere at my employer, but no one ever sat down and explained it to me. It’s believable, to me, that a couple of admins might not have read the entire personnel manual and might not understand why a large gift from their boss was inappropriate. I mean, yeah, common sense suggests it’s a bad idea, but lots of people are lacking in common sense.

                1. AMPG*

                  It doesn’t actually matter if it’s been explained to you or not, though. It’s your job to know the policies and follow them, since you can be opening yourself and your employer up to legal ramifications if you don’t.

                2. Starbuck*

                  You don’t demand gifts, though. That they would ask the new boss, someone they don’t even know yet, for a “gift” is extremely sketchy. It’s not a gift anymore in that case.

                3. KMB213*

                  Agreed. And, cash bonuses from one’s direct supervisor, while not the norm, are not unheard-of in non-government work – if these women had both come from offices where this was common and a policy prohibiting it was never explained, they may not have thought much of it.

                4. Observer*

                  @KMB213 Cash bonuses *this large* from a non-owner boss ARE actually pretty much unheard of, even in private entities. And given what government salaries look like, you don’t have to be a genius to realize that something is up.

                  And, in fact, the way they have handled this says that they DO know that something is up here.

              3. another Jennifer*

                This is what has me puzzled. It’s been a while since I worked for the government, but our “code of conduct” was made VERY clear to us and we signed off annually. I’ve been assuming this is still standard.

            2. Observer*

              In addition to what Jennifer M. said, there is also the fact that they came to Jackson to inform him of this payment trying to get him to sign on as well. That’s not the behavior of someone who thinks that their boss must know about some rule they didn’t know about.

              I don’t know if these ladies should be fired. But, the payment is so shady that I would investigating EVERYTHING the former manager did. I have to wonder if this wasn’t intended to be hush money.

              1. LaterKate*

                This is interesting to me. My thought was actually that if they thought this wasn’t ok, they wouldn’t have mentioned it to the OP. If they knew that it was against the rules, why would they bring it up to a new manager and shine a light on their wrongdoing? I get that they wanted OP to continue the tradition, but I don’t think going to the OP to ask indicates that they knew this was wrong.
                That said, they *should* have known this was not ok, and there is almost certainly a policy/rule/law that addresses this. Ignorance isn’t going to be a great defense for them, especially if they received training or a handbook outlining policies about this sort of thing.

                1. Observer*

                  Well, if there is some rule that managers know about, Jackson should know about it, right? So why did they have to go to him the first thing rather than assume that he’s going to do the right thing? On the other hand, if they thought that it’s a legitimate thing, but Jackson is new so might not know, they wouldn’t have “hinted”, they would have said it outright- something like “How are you planning to handle the cash bonuses?”

                  Instead they had to “explain” the situation and they carefully stopped short of a demand.

                2. KMB213*

                  I agree, LaterKate, that they should have known, but that this may have been ignorance and not malice. (It may have been malice, too, I’m just not sure why so many people are jumping directly to that conclusion, absent much supporting evidence.)

                  @Observer, my thought was that they assumed there was a policy allowing it, but that it wasn’t the norm in the office as a hole, so they let Jackson know that it was the norm for them. It also does sound like they were pretty direct. I mean, they didn’t specifically ask (as many people wouldn’t ask for a bonus, even one directly from the company), but they directly let him know that they’d received such bonuses in the past – they didn’t really hint.

                3. Huntington*

                  He’s not their boss, yet. This is the first thing they raise with him. On private time, rather than on the first day. I dunno. Seems iffy to me at best.

          2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Why? If there was no scam and nothing shady life e blackmail was happening, the manager who left did something wrong, not the employees. Why fire them?

            1. CMDRBNA*

              Sorry, no – most government agencies have specific regulations in place about this sort of thing, and accepting the cash is most likely a violation of those rules (obviously without knowing which agency the OP’s friend works for we can’t say for sure, but I’ve worked for 2 government agencies and contracted for another, and ALL of them had very explicit rules about things like this, especially the agencies that employed civilian contractors and/or international workers). A manager offering cash to a subordinate is violating the rules, but so is a subordinate accepting it – and the admins are WAY out of line in ‘broadly hinting’ that they expect their new manager to continue giving them “bonuses.”

              All of the agencies I worked for had very, very strict rules about things like this. Even a manager buying lunch for a subordinate could cause problems.

              Even in private industry, this sounds super fishy. It’s one thing to give an employee a gift card or something as a thank you for going above and beyond, but regularly supplementing someone’s income to the tune of thousands of dollars a year? That is INCREDIBLY shady.

              1. Jesca*

                I know the thousands of dollars thing (10 to 15% extra in income, to boot!) really through me. Like, why? And how much money was that last manager making?!

            2. Infinity Anon*

              Up until the employees came to the new manager to try to guilt him/her into giving them money I would agree, but that crossed a line. They are not entitled to a part of their boss’s compensation but seem to think that they are. If they thought it was above board, wouldn’t they assume that their new boss already knows how to handle it?

          3. Yorick*

            I agree. Maybe they weren’t wrong to take money from the former manager, but to ask the new manager to continue it? Wouldn’t you just accept that the days of the bonus are over?

            1. MashaKasha*

              Yes, this is what is making me lean towards disciplinary action (at the least) – that they went to him and dropped hints that they would like the tradition to continue. Even if your old boss gave you cash out of her own pocket for some odd reason, who on earth uses that as an excuse to try and extort from the new boss? That was a one-off thing and it’s over now.

              1. Mabel*

                When I was a manager, the only thing I did that was even remotely similar to this was to take my team out for lunch on my own dime. I thought my company should have paid (I think it was a holiday lunch), but they weren’t going to, and my team definitely deserved it. There have been times when I WISHED I could have given certain people raises, even from my own money, but you just can’t.

            2. Jesmlet*

              I’m 50/50 on whether or not accepting the money is okay, but it’s 100% wrong for them to tell Jackson about it and imply that they would want it to continue. That’s gross and unethical behavior and if I found all this out, they’d both be fired.

              1. Infinity Anon*

                At the very least they are they are the ones who brought the new boss into the mess. Reporting it to the higher ups is really the only option now without being complicit. If there are consequences for them then it is their fault for trying to force the situation to continue.

            3. Bea*

              Exactly where I land. Their greed and forward behaviour will be the undoing and rightfully so.

              Years ago a kind gentleman would give me money occasionally because he used our warehouse for delivery and storage. My boss was buddies with him and he had his own small side business. He always gave me “tips” for passing messages and accepting deliveries. When he died I sure the hell didn’t seek out anyone to replace that uncategorized income nor expect it from my bosses other friends I did the same stuff for.

            4. TurquoiseCow*

              Yeah that’s what I would have done in their shoes. Like, I could definitely use that bonus, but, knowing it was out of the supervisor’s pocket and therefore not totally legal or acceptable, I would accept that when he goes, the money goes.

              I certainly wouldn’t go to a *new* supervisor and not-so-subtly hint/threaten him. If he reports this, which he probably will and should, doesn’t it make *me* look bad for taking the money as well?

          4. Justme*

            IF (and this is a big IF) they colluded to get money from a supervisor, then yes. But otherwise, why would you fire them?

            1. CMDRBNA*

              Because accepting the money is still a violation of their federal agency’s guidelines? I’m not sure what about this concept is so complicated for you. The manager should have never given them the money, but they were also in the wrong for accepting it. At the agencies I worked for, I could have gotten in trouble for accepting any gift or lunch over $25. There’s even a specific mechanism for government employees who can’t turn down a gift in the course of diplomacy and have to accept it, but they can’t keep it – it gets turned over to the agency.

              The admins were in the wrong, sorry. Whatever consequences they face for accepting the money AND for pressuring their new boss to continue giving them kickbacks is on them.

              1. Stop That Goat*

                They might not be a federal agency. I work in government and I’m not federal. I wouldn’t personally have taken the money because it seems off but the policy may not be as clear as you think.

                1. sometimeswhy*

                  And sometimes ethics codes only applies to a certain subset of the staff, decision-makers, for instance. Unless otherwise covered in an administrative code or workplace policy, someone in a support or entry-level position may not have a prohibition of any sort against gifts from colleagues or vendors or activism groups where a more senior member of staff might have to refuse or give away so much as a free calendar from a vendor.

                  It still needs to be reported to the director and it still needs to stop but there are an awful lot of details around this we don’t know that would change just who’s screwed what up and how badly.

                2. CMDRBNA*

                  True. We don’t know what agency it is. The OP’s friend could always access whatever policy manual or document the agency has and see if there’s a regulation covering this. But really, he just needs to tell management and let them sort it out. It would be one thing if the manager sprung for a $100 gift card or something once a year (even though I think that’s a little steep to be coming from one person and not the organization), but several thousand dollars? That is just bananas.

                  All of the agencies I worked for had literally no budget for anything resembling bonuses. There were some “merit-based” awards here and there, but usually you got a plaque or whatever. We didn’t even have budget for things like an office party; everything had to be done through potluck or donations, and the donations couldn’t be cash, you had to actually bring in food or something, you couldn’t just throw $5 at the organizer.

                3. Observer*

                  I’d be surprised if there is a government agency in the US that doesn’t have some sort of gift policy. And, I would be even more surprised if there is an agency where ANYONE were allowed to accept LARGE gifts – and several thousand dollars definitely applies.

              2. Salamander*

                When I worked at the state and county government levels, the limits of gifts that we could accept was $20. And we had to disclose any gifts that were $20 or less to our supervisors. Everyone knew that this was the rule, from the bottom to the top. In local governments I’ve worked for, this is made very, very clear on all levels. And the culture is all about rules…everyone knows them.

                I think that this is a situation in which everyone involved knew that this was afoul of the rules. The sense of entitlement there in trying to push the new supervisor into giving the bonuses is pretty shocking. I think that the new supervisor has to report it – not disclosing this could get him in a lot of trouble. Frankly, I think he’d be better off if these two resigned in a huff/got fired, and he could choose his own staff. But yeah, this will be a protracted battle…but in the long run, much better for his tenure. Everyone likely knows the situation, and is waiting to see what he does. Better to be known as a supervisor who follows the rules than one who’s shady…because the poor guy will be asked to bend the rules forevermore. If he doesn’t report, these two know that they have him in a rules violation…and they’ll hold that over his head.

              3. De Minimis*

                Even in a federal agency, they might be more likely to get a reprimand or official warning than to be fired. The manager would be more likely to have been fired over it.

                I’m always the first to say that it’s quite possible to fire federal employees if necessary, but this probably wouldn’t quite cross the line, at least not for the employees who accepted the money. Of course, that’s assuming they aren’t already in trouble for something else.

        2. Isabelle*

          That’s a good point and I think Jackson should do a little bit of digging to check whether the bonuses really happened. Right now he has no proof of anything, it’s all hearsay and if he goes to management with this information, Cynthia and Abigail can deny these conversations took place. It’s his word against theirs.

          If the under the table bonuses really happened, I wonder if there can be any legal repercussions for the previous manager since she is no longer with this employer? I guess there’s no law against giving people cash gifts of that value, and the amount would be too small to be taxable.

          1. SomeoneLikeAnon*

            Actually, a coworker and I were just having this conversation. There is supposed to be a limit on gifts, no more than $25 max. We couldn’t find the reprucussions on it though.

            Having a boss gift significant sums of money to underlings is a BFD.

            1. Natalie*

              None of it’s illegal, these limits are just about how much is deductible or taxable. Failing to report it on taxes may or may not be a crime depending on whether it has passed the nebulous boundary between negligence and fraud.

              The $25 limit you are thinking of is the maximum deduction for gifts to other business (such as clients or vendors) and non-cash gifts to employees. If you give a larger gift to a business, you can’t deduct it as a business expense. If you give a larger non-cash gift to an employee, the value has to be declared as income. Other than length of service gifts, all cash and cash equivalent gifts to employees are taxable income regardless of amount.

              1. Natalie*

                Although I should note that since they’re government employees, there may be actual laws related to their employment status.

                1. CMDRBNA*

                  Right. And just because something isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it isn’t against the policies of your particular workplace. There are a lot of things I could do that are legal but would get me fired anyway if I did them at work.

              2. Observer*

                Actually, no in government agencies, the $25 is the legal limit of what a person may receive. Some local agencies allow slightly higher, but not cash and the highest I have ever seen is $50. (Some places have even lower limits – like $10.)

                If you go to lunch with a vendor, you had better be buying your own lunch. If a vendor sends the office manager a food platter or candy basket, better share that with the office in case it’s over the limit. etc. A rule of thumb I’ve seen is that it’s more than a cup of coffee and a danish, you should check the organization’s policies.

          2. PB*

            For the sake of argument, what kind of digging would he do? He’s heard Cynthia and Abigail’s story. The former manager is gone, and might not corroborate the story, even if she were still there.

            My personal thinking is that, at this point, he should report this to his supervisor and ask about next steps from there.

            1. Foreign Octopus*

              I agree.

              This needs to go straight to his manager. The more people are made aware of it, the better it will be for Jackson in the long run.

              1. PB*

                Yes, I completely agree. I was responding to Isabelle’s suggestion that Jackson do more digging before reporting

              2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

                +1000! While Jackson must report this situation due to almost certain violation of policies and/or regulations, it is not Jackson’s job to investigate it. In most federal and state government agencies, there is an office dedicated to oversight. They have professionals who have the skills to investigate and should manage the case.

            2. Amy*

              Yeah, especially considering these funds theoretically went from Ex-Manager’s private accounts to (possibly cash to) Cynthia and Abigail’s private accounts, I doubt OP has access to anything that would truly verify or disprove the claim. Not to mention, it’s not really their job. Better to report it and figure out next steps after that.

          3. CMDRBNA*

            Nope. I wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole – it goes straight to management. If he’s concerned about them denying the conversation ever took place, he could always email them with a recap of their conversation and say that he’s going to ask management or HR to look into the matter further and then do that immediately.

            It’s very likely against the rules for this agency, as most federal agencies have regulations about this sort of thing (I worked in two agencies that had a strong international presence, and there were rules about whether you could/couldn’t bring souvenirs back for coworkers or bring gifts for foreign nationals. You could, but they had to be under $25 and you had to keep the receipts, and a lot of people just avoided it altogether because it could open you up to accusations of favoritism. It was taken very seriously.).

            Whether or not the former manager is going to get into trouble, and my guess is probably not since she’s gone, is not the OP’s friend’s problem.

    2. Obi-wan's wife*

      That was my first thought! These ladies put their heads together to try to pull a fast one.

    3. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      Harvey paying a good chunk of Donna’s salary (through the firm’s payroll!) made sense because Harvey was making 1 bazillion dollars, and Donna. (Please award me points for being the first “Suits” reference on the topic here.)

      A manager in a government firm paying $1000s a year to reports, under the table? The first thing that screams to me is kickback. Something be rotten.

      All of this immediately above the new manager’s job grade. Punt and fast before complicit.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, I think you are right. Something is waaay off – either they are lying, which means that they need to be fired, or there was some payoff going on. Major potential for issues here. OP, Jackson needs to report this IMMEDIATELY.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Oh. Hmm. I hadn’t thought of “don’t look closely at the travel reimbursements, and you’ll get a nice bonus.”

        If so, ironic if the admins didn’t realize that they were supposed to be actively failing to notice something in return for the bonuses.

      3. always in email jail*

        It reminds me of letters we’ve seen where admins are expected to help bosses schedule their affairs/cover them up. Maybe something along those lines going on? Though I don’t know why they’d expect it to continue under someone else…

      4. Iris Eyes*

        While there is definitely a possibility that that is the case it is equally as likely that a well endowed person who is unable to secure “fair” raises for the people who report to her might take matters into her own hands out of a sense of justice.

        In either case the OP has the same responsibility, report. If they quit because they can’t afford to work there anymore then ultimately that’s to their benefit. If they get fired well that’s what happens when you go against policy. In either case the OP has no guilt.

        1. Observer*

          Come on, you really think it’s likely that the supervisor is both so independently wealthy and so altruistic that they are shelling out thousands of dollars a year to their direct reports because they are not being paid “enough”?

          Something is waaay off there.

          1. Jesca*

            I know!!! How much could they possibly be making? I mean even if the admins were making like $30,000 a year, what is 15% of that? Like $5000 or so? You make enough that you can afford to dole out a total of $10,000 a year to subordinates while working for the government?

    4. Nervous Accountant*

      That’s the first thing I thought of, Im usually not so skeptical but when it comes to money it’s very well possible the two employees were lying about this.

      Just curious, if it were true, and the previous manager is now gone–what could happen to her?

      1. Naruto*

        Yeah, I also can’t help but wonder if Abigail and Cynthia are lying to Jackson. If so, it changes this situation significantly (i.e., they need to be fired).

        1. Naruto*

          I mean, how much do program managers make in a mid-sized government org? Not enough to pay thousands of dollars a year to not one but two direct reports (as evidenced by the fact that Jackson can’t afford it, not to mention common sense about government salaries), right?

      2. CMDRBNA*

        Honestly, probably nothing will happen to the manager, because she’s gone. However, if she went to another government agency, that might be an issue. It’s been my experience that personnel issues kind of die when the offender leaves. It’s so, so hard to get rid of a problem employee in the feds that usually, they’re so relieved the person is gone and they don’t want to jeopardize the employee getting hired elsewhere, because that solves the problem.

        I worked in an agency that had a problem employee (harassment and insubordination, not this kind of stuff) and they were all geared up to put a disciplinary letter in his file, after nearly a year of squabbling, when he got a job offer at another agency. The director gave him a glowing recommendation, pulled the letter, and shoved him out the door. He didn’t want to take the chance that the agency would pass on hiring him and saw an opportunity to unload this guy on someone else and took it.

        It really sucks.

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, I think it would probably be better to try to get in front of this, if you can. And it’s not really unethical to disclose that someone’s applying—it really depends on the specific circumstances of the organization and the Board’s relationship with the organization.

    I don’t think there’s much to lose by approaching the Board member to clear the air. It sounds like you have strong feelings about what you want from her, and worst case, she’s going to tell your employer. But that could happen even if you didn’t speak to her about it, and best case is that she’s discreet about your application.

    1. M-C*

      Also, even if it was unethical you can’t entirely control what people actually say. So being up front about it and acting like of course she’d want to keep it to herself would be your best shot at having her be quiet.
      But indeed I ‘d also think hard about how you can explain your leaving, and how much of a role this person may have in the dysfunction you are trying to escape, so you don’t leap from the frying pan into the fire. Good luck OP!

    2. OP5*

      OP here. I had the interview Friday, and did not run into the board member/director. I was also informed today I didn’t get the role, but that they liked me enough to forward my resume to other directors who are hiring. Also, I was asked if I still wanted the role of the other person rejects it.

      The reason I would give for wanting to leave would be true: I have wanted to work for the org I interviewed with for quite some time. They’re stable, they’re well-led, and they would provide ample opportunities for growth (for me and the clients!).

      I also had not met this board member yet, and didn’t want my first impression to be, “Keep my secrets!”, especially if I didn’t get the other job.


      1. CMDRBNA*

        Good luck! I hope that you get away from that organization. I was in a similar boat a few years ago and the board only noticed something was wrong when they realized there were, like, 3-4 HR complaints in a tiny organization and constant turnover.

  6. So Very Anonymous*

    Re OP #2: Second Alison’s advice on more upfront training. Could you create some kind of training manual that includes detailed information on how to handle frequently-asked questions? That way the student employees can find information quickly, and would also have something that they could study in between patrons.

  7. Observer*

    #1 – That’s so bizarre, that if the two of them hadn’t approached him separately, I would be wondering if they are telling the truth. What REALLY blows me away is that they seem to think that he’ll continue this!

    He needs to tell his manager IMMEDIATELY. If nothing else, they are likely to take his refusal to pay them this money poorly which could have some serious repercussions if the chain above him is not aware of the problem.

  8. SignalLost*

    OP #2, I just wanted to second Allison’s language about finding someone who can help. I never, ever mind that phrasing (though I agree you should do more than it sounds like is happening regarding up front training) but make sure it doesn’t turn into “I don’t know, I’m new”. I feel like putting “trainee” on nametags would make me wary I was about to get the latter. I don’t think you need to emphasize someone’s newness; just teach them that the end of any patron request they’re not sure of is finding someone who is. It’s a bit disconcerting to be left with the “I’m new” statement.

    1. Another Lauren*

      Right, it’s not “I don’t know,” it’s “I don’t know, but let me find out.”

    2. Lena*

      At my first part time job they taught us to say “I’m not sure but I’ll find out” and then go and find out. I still do that to this day.

    3. TootsNYC*

      There’s also, “I haven’t run into this question yet–let me get someone who can help us.”

  9. Not That Jane*

    #1: My experience of working with people who are willing to bend or break rules to this extent is that (a) they’ve been doing it in more than just one area of their job and (b) many people in the organization probably know that already. (Not specifically about the bonuses, I mean, but about the general pattern of running things with disregard for the rules.) So I think it’s likely that when Jackson discloses this to the management team, it will reflect much worse on the former manager than on Abigail and Cynthia, and that this may not be a complete surprise to them.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I agree. And don’t think Jackson has any alternative but to inform his manager & HR immediately.

  10. MommyMD*

    Abigail and Cynthia should be the ones to feel bad for trying to shake down Jackson who should absolutely tell his boss. Let the chips fall where they may.

    1. Edina Monsoon*

      I agree, if they aren’t happy with their pay they’re free to look for work elsewhere, not assume that their boss will subsidise them from his own pocket. I’d be so taken aback by their request I’d have gone straight to whoever hired me to tell them I didn’t sign up for this!

    1. GT*

      I agree, but it’s also something I can see my socially-clueless husband doing. He also wouldn’t accept that he was wrong. :\. So there are at least two of them out there…

    2. Susan Calvin*

      Is it though? I think it very much depends on the employer, and the type of complaint.

      Sure, if the husband was trying to get his wife’s ‘mean’ supervisor fired for bogus reasons, or if it was a small business of the scale where everything is kind of personal, that’s a big NO. But on the other far end of the spectrum, my employer sells a software tool that is commonly used in my father’s field of work, and I can’t imagine a scenario where anyone would consider his feedback as a user any less valid.

      Since in the letter, we seem to be talking about retail, and the complaint was about pricing, I would assume the complaint went straight to corporate – so unless a) the wife is management level corporate herself, or b) the complaint was for some reason made to her direct manager or someone else at her location, I could see that blowing over easily.

      1. Government Worker*

        I think this raises a good point – a family member filing a bug report on some software, or sending in a politely-worded request for an additional feature, wouldn’t raise eyebrows. Similarly, I bet if the husband’s contact with the wife’s employer here had been a polite request to start carrying an additional product line or noting that a bathroom fixture was broken on X date, it would be fine.

        And if the pricing complaint was polite and about something legitimate (“my item was marked at X but rang up at X + 10% and the cashier was unable to rectify the problem), then I don’t predict a problem for the wife. But if the complaint was an angry rant about how overpriced everything is at the store and how you can get things cheaper on Amazon, it has the potential to really reflect poorly on his wife.

  11. The Other Katie*

    For OP#2, I’d rethink your decision against “Trainee” nametags. As it is, your trainee’s customers are already their lab rats, they just don’t know it and may be less inclined to forgive inefficiency and mistakes. If you’re not going to give them even the tiniest bit of initial training and make them learn it all on the job, at least let people know they’re learning on the job.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      As a customer I’m a fan of those nametags. It’s not like I’d be rude to them if I didn’t know they were know, but I might be more internally annoyed.

      1. nonymous*

        Agreed – it definitely sets expectations that service may be a little bit slower because the trainee staff will need to ask for help. Having said that, OP could also teach staff to be okay with saying “let me find out for you” – it’s a good life skill for the students.

        1. Infinity Anon*

          Either “let me find out for you” or “Hold on a second while I get my supervisor to help you” are both good phrases that don’t imply incompetence. I have often gone to the university library with non-standard requests where the supervisor needs to be looped in. It is never an issue and doesn’t make the student employees look like “trainees”.

    2. Merida Ann*

      At Disney World, employees (“cast members”) who are in their first year wear a red ribbon attached to their badge that says “Earning My Ears”. Once they have completed their first year of training, they replace that ribbon with a Mickey Mouse pin. There are also other pins that they switch to at big anniversary years. It seems like an elegant system to help signify who is still in the learning stages and to celebrate longevity with the company. A similar ribbon and/or pin system with a book theme might be a good solution here.

      1. Actual Disney Employee*

        First year? My trainers told me to take off the red ribbon at the end of my 1st solo week! (1 week of on the job training with a trainer literally always within arms reach, 1 day “assessment”, and then on my own)

        1. Former Disney Employee*

          What? They don’t wear the ribbon for a year. Usually they have a trainer for on-site training for 2 weeks, take an assessment and then they can wear the ribbon for a few weeks, but then they’re expected to take it off.

          Those pins you’re talking about signify 1 year, 5 year and so forth anniversaries. They are not to designate that someone has earned their years, they just signify how long a cast member has been with the company.

          1. Merida Ann*

            Whoops, sorry! I just saw them wearing them and assumed one lead to the other. Anyway, I still like the theory of the system, even if I got the details wrong, and it could be adapted to work for this situation.

    3. Justme*

      I’m not a fan of those name tags in retail settings, because they basically say “Take advantage of me because I haven’t learned everything yet!” But in a library setting, sure.

      1. Chinook*

        Whereas I liked wearing a “trainee” tag because it explains why I was moving slowly or asking for clarification of things of customers or looking for the right button on the cash register when I worked at the coffee chain. I also found that the regulars would also volunteer some of the information (ex: where to find the peanut butter packets) if I was new because they often knew more than I did.

        In reverse, I always have much more patience with someone who is flagged as new but I am also aware that the chances of something going wrong go exponentially. When our regular bus driver takes a detour, we trust she has a reason for it. When the trainee turns down a street they don’t normally use, we riders are apt to speak up to make sure there aren’t lost (which I have seen happen).

    4. Princess Carolyn*

      I think this makes sense if nametags are already required. It would be weird to create special “I’m new” nametags if the experienced employees aren’t wearing nametags at all, but I don’t mind the subtle designation. And the text doesn’t need to be, like, “Forgive me, I’m new!” It can be neutral or positive like “New Employee” or “I’m new here!” or something.

  12. Kate, Short for Bob*

    #3 in the UK that would likely be a breach of Data Protection, reportable to the Information Commissioner. Companies storing personal data – which includes email addresses – do so having recorded the clear purposes of what they will use that data for. You cannot just decide to use a mailing list for your own non-professional purposes. I’d question the professionalism, judgement and ethics of this director.

    But then this kind of thing twitches my last nerve…

    1. Emma*

      Indeed! The fines for using personal information, for a purpose other than that which the person who provided it consented to, are potentially high, and I’ve taken a few people to task over this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, data protection is not a Thing in US law (I don’t know why!)

    2. Chinook*

      OP #3 – In Canada this would also have been a breach of law at provincial and national levels usually called Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP). I know you don’t have the same privacy standards in the US because we keep having to remind our American head office that they are not allowed to give out our email addresses and phone numbers without explicit consent and/or business purposes, even to our bosses or for emergency contact lists (the latter of which are opt-in).

      As someone who was part of a church women’s group with 150 local members, I often had others ask for our list so they could send them information and I was constantly having to remind people that we don’t give out the list (including our regional group *sigh* who don’t take it as seriously no matter how many times the national group tells them to).

      If someone truly needed to send out information to our members, they submit it to our Communications Chair who then decides, along with other executive, if we will send it out and then we do it on their behalf if we deem it appropriate to do so. But that list belongs to us and disseminating it to others means we no longer control who is contacted and how. And one of my jobs as their president is to protect my volunteers’ privacy as well as not make them made at us.

  13. Irishgal*

    OP3 I’m slightly stunned. This is not a breach of etiquette; this is blatant misuse of “personal data” by this head of field for their personal gain. At least that is how it would be viewed in the EU where we have very strict laws about use of personal data (about to become more strict in May 2018). In the EU that organisation (as the organisation is considered responsible) could be reported to the country’s Information Commissioner as a “data breach” and they could receive a substantial fine.

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #1 – it concerns me that Abigail and Cynthia had the chutzpah to even tell Jackson about this.

    1. Foreign Octopus*


      This. If anything, go to the manager one step up from Jackson. Obviously Jackson wouldn’t know the ins and outs of everything just yet, particularly with end-of-year things and so why bring it up with him? I want to say it hints at something shady but I’ve worked in places where the thinking becomes so warped that of course it seems like a good idea to raise this with the new manager.

      I really hope we get an update for this one.

  15. Whoanelly*

    2. If you like to train by doing, this seems like the perfect opportunity to do some role playing training, though please do it realistically and not that magical thinking crap that retailers like to roll out. Walk through some scenarios with your employees and coach them through it. That way they’ve learned up front, but they also got to learn by doing, not just by being told what to do in a hypothetical situation.

    1. nonymous*

      better yet, get the current experienced staff to come up with scenarios. OP may be surprised at what customers are saying to student employees or at the employees’ interpretation of what customers are saying.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, role plays were the first thing that came to mind for me too. And you don’t have to do them like skits, which is when people usually find them too awkward to be useful, but you can do a more general “A patron comes up and asks you this question, what do you tell them?”

  16. Gee Gee*

    LW #1, Jackson is obviously very kind-hearted. My reaction to this situation would have been to cackle like a loon and ask Abigail and Cynthia if they thought I was born yesterday. These women sound like con artists.

    1. Hellanon*

      I must be a true cynic – this was my first thought as well. I hope we get an update on this one!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m seeing them more as unknowing cogs–more unknowing than the manager paying the bonuses had realized–and the whole scheme is about to unravel because they didn’t recognize a payoff for what it was.

  17. Hiring Mgr*

    On #1, did Jackson happen to mention where the previous manager is now working? Are they hiring??

  18. always in email jail*

    Hi Alison, I wanted to make sure you got this and didn’t find an appropriate link under the “Connect” section.
    A website called “” (I promise, it’s a thing, and it gets traffic) is covering a letter you posted here that buzzfeed later picked up, but is crediting buzzfeed for the story. I thought I would let you know in case you wanted to ensure they credited your site.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      You might be best off sending an email, the last few comments I’ve seen from Alison were about how busy she has been since moving house so she might not see your comment.

    2. SophieChotek*

      Yes one of her letters from last week got picked up too…not sure if it is the one you are referring to

    3. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      Oh dear Lord that website is unbelievably horrifying. And I say this as a celebrity gossip-loving, childless, rich white lady in my late 20s. Their exact target demographic.

  19. TheWidgeon*

    #4- You can make a complaint to your work/your spouse’s work, but the tone is really critical. In fact, I would recommend doing so by phone/in-person rather than by written form, as you can set a neutral or positive tone while seeking out a resolution.

    I went through this to an extreme. I am a teacher and worked at a school district. The bus lost my kinder special needs child for nearly an hour and dropped him off on the wrong side of town (the kind of stuff that makes the news). I addressed it by phone and in-person with a concerned but professional tone rather and all was well.

    I also think it’s worth considering if the complaint is warranted. If it’s a small pricing issue, I wouldn’t want to call attention to it. A large pricing issue, safety issue, that sort of thing? Sure, but tread carefully. Good luck!

    1. Tim C.*

      I agree. Most places I have worked have viewed customer complaints as an opportunity to address and improve. The silent dissatisfied customer does not return and does not offer such opportunity for customer recovery. Of course it matters greatly HOW you complain. If you made a big deal your spouse worked there and dropped their name as well as maybe added a bit of rude language then yes it may reflect poorly upon them.

  20. Erin*

    #1 – Not only should he speak up about this and not continue the tradition, but frankly, I wouldn’t even feel that bad for those two women. They HAD to have known what a risk it was to accept this money and wondered what would happen if that guy left.

      1. CMDRBNA*

        I’m trying to imagine my reaction if my support staff came to me and were like “oh, by the way, Old Manager gave us 5K a year of her own money for Reasons, we assume you’ll be doing the same?”

        Oh, HELL no.

  21. anonak*

    Add me to those who think that that letter writer #1’s friend needs to report this ASAP, because this is a Really Big Deal!

    If this were a private sector job it would still be an issue, but in government, he could probably be held responsible for not reporting it.

    I can think of so many potential issues:
    1. Allegations of bribery or preferential treatment.
    2. Lack of pay transparency (in my state, government employees’ salaries are public record).
    3. If anyone involved awards grants or contacts, allegations of misconduct
    4. Potential tax fraud
    5. The employer’s Code of Ethics might prohibits such arrangements
    6. If there is a Union contact involved, this could breach it

    I mean, these are just omces off the top of my head…..

    1. Decimus*

      Re #1: This was my thought also. This needs to be reported to management because it’s a government job and those have HUGE complications. Example: Assume the former manager goes into business that involves dealing with his former subordinates. The employees would essentially be “pre-bribed” as it were, possibly down to him being able to blackmail them (since it probably IS against policy to accept such sums).

      Jackson needs to report this ASAP – to cover himself at the least.

  22. Stop That Goat*

    #4. I find it a little odd that a company would rather focus on punishing someone for a relationship to a customer than the actual customer complaint itself.

      1. Stop That Goat*

        Of course. I guess I didn’t express myself clearly. I don’t understand why a company would punish a colleague for a valid customer complaint lodged by their spouse unless it was really really inappropriate. Part of the reason that I read this blog is to learn though so it never occurred to me that this was a thing.

    1. Myrin*

      Like fposte says, these aren’t mutually exclusive, but also, there is nothing in this short letter that speaks of any as-of-yet-already-taken action on the company’s part. It just asks if the company “can retaliate”, not that that is what happened or that wife was warned that it will happen or similar.

      1. Stop That Goat*

        It just never dawned on me that a company would retaliate for a valid customer complaint so I’d never have thought of the possibility. I guess I should have viewed it from the ‘well it’s legal’ angle.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I definitely think you need to mentally put it in the “is this legal?” corner, even though OP didn’t phrase it quite like that.

          (FWIW, I’m with you on that not really having occurred to me before although granted, this is not a scenario I really spent any time wondering about before. But even if I had, I’m just not a retaliatory person and if I had a store where one of my employee’s spouses complained about something, that wouldn’t really have anything to do with my employee in my head (unless it was something like some letters we’ve had here before, like, say, the spouse’s complaint being specifically about my employee in some way). But I also can’t understand this thing where bosses react with anything other than “I’m sorry to hear that and wish you all the best” to an employee’s resigning because it feels so weird and petty and unreasonable to believe that no one could ever want to work anywhere else. I just don’t have that kind of mind.)

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          I have a call center background and complaints in that environment count against the last person that “touched” the account. So let’s say you have a massive issue, call in and you get great service and get it fixed. But then you decide to complain in general about the company when they send the survey. Those bad scores just go against the rep you spoke to (even though you might leave a comment that clearly says “rep was great, but your company is awful). The rep depends on those scores for bonuses, raise potential, promotion opportunities, etc. Customer complaints can have a big impact, just not necessarily how the customer intended. If the store has a system where all “negative” complaints ding the store in some way, especially if they measure “customer satisfaction” then I’d guarantee that the wife will get reprimanded if they put it together.

          1. Nolan*

            I worked in a retail environment that had a similar system, and an individual rep’s score could suffer from an unrelated complaint. A good manager wouldn’t just focus on your score, they’d also consider the actual content, but it did still reflect on you and the store, even if the complaint was about corporate. If a relative or partner that could be tied to me made a complaint in the system like that, I’d have been very upset, at the least.

          2. Stop That Goat*

            That really sounds like an issue with the company though and their poor method of handling complaints.

  23. CMDRBNA*

    I agree that OP#1 needs to report this immediately, and yes, it probably is going to have negative ramifications for both admins and possibly the previous manager. Government jobs don’t work like private industry jobs, and I’m pretty sure this is violates guidelines (I know for sure it violates the agency guidelines of two of the federal agencies where I worked) both on the part of the admins who accepted the money and the manager who offered it.

    That being said, I am kind of shocked the admins mentioned it to the OP in the first place, much less “broadly hinted” that they expect him to continue subsidizing them! Wow.

  24. anon for this one*

    #5, I’ve been on a dysfunctional board (or on a board that would have been very functional if it weren’t for a few dysfunctional members) and there’s a pretty good chance this board member knows things are messed up, and won’t be surprised or displeased to see an employee trying to jump ship. (In fact, I have pulled an employee aside and said “you can trust me if you need a reference.”)

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      We don’t know that, it just says their last name was attached to the email. It could be bob.veryuncommonlastname@blahdotcom.

      1. Artemesia*

        I have a very uncommon last name and my husband’s name is one of millions. So in our case, it would be no problem. But if the OP shares a name with his wife and it is an uncommon name, it could definitely get linked and be damaging. And the big red flag here is that he made the complaint without asking his wife first. Her job; her turf; her risk. ANY interaction like this is up to her judgment.

  25. nnn*

    For #2, in addition to what others have said, specifically instruct your students on what exactly to do when they don’t know an answer.

    Example: Tell the client “I’m sorry, I don’t know, but let’s go over to the reference desk and find someone who does.” Then walk with the client over to the reference desk, say to the reference librarian “Lucinda, this lady is looking for teapot manuscripts,” and pass the client to the reference librarian. If your duties permit, observe how the reference librarian solves the problem so you know for next time. If that’s not possible, send your manager an email asking to be trained on this point.

    This will result in better and more consistent customer service, plus help introduce your students to professional norms for handling this kind of situation. As we saw in yesterday’s “how not to be the annoying new person” thread, not everyone is clear on when they should and shouldn’t ask questions. Many students also have the disadvantage of not having much firsthand exposure to excellent customer service (due to the combination of having recently been a teenager and not having much disposable income) so they might not be able to come up with the best approach independently.

    1. nonymous*

      > Many students also have the disadvantage of not having much firsthand exposure to excellent customer service

      My guess is that this skews disproportionately to lower income & minority, possibly also first-generation college students, so +++ on teaching professional norms. I come from a family of rigid (sheltered) thinkers and it was definitely a learning curve to realize that as an adult I am not expected to be an encyclopedic personal assistant put on earth to solve whatever problems the person in front of me is presenting in the way they imagined it being solved.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think it should be normal to instruct an employee what to say if they don’t know the answer. Many folks, are answering, “I don’t know, but let’s get someone to help you.” That is a good answer but some places want employees to use different wording for reasons. Employees need to be told on the first day or soon after what the employer expects them to say when they don’t know or aren’t certain.
        For my setting, when I went to break I gave the intern a tablet and pen. I asked her to tell the person to leave me a note. Because our work is so detailed, I felt that by letting the person write the message themselves that the intern would not have to worry about getting the message wrong or forgetting to ask relevant questions. The intern was relieved with this solution as it fit the particulars of our setting.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      Oh, that’s a great point. I’ve had way too many jobs where I had no idea how to find the answer to something I didn’t know. It’s frustrating to know you’re not helping the person who’s asking for assistance.

  26. Delta Delta*

    #1 – As lots of others have said, this is no good, and Jackson should talk to his manager about it. I wish we had some other details, though, like how much the “bonuses” were and what the understanding was. I once worked for a city government, and my manager, from time to time, would give me a fully-punched coffee punch card to a local coffee shop. It wasn’t a bonus, it was a free cup of coffee that she earned by buying 8 cups of coffee. (and she gave them to me because she was a nice lady who thought I might enjoy a free cup of coffee from the fancy place on the corner every once in a while) Did Abigail & Cynthia get the equivalent of the occasional punch card and maybe a little cash gift at year’s end, or was it an extra cash sum in hand for every paycheck? If it’s the latter, it’s problematic. If they can’t get by on the salary they’re paid, that’s a larger systemic problem that someone above Jackson needs to review. If it’s a shakedown of the new boss, that’s a more localized problem that someone above Jackson needs to review.

    1. Not That Jane*

      Well, the letter says that without the cash bonuses these employees will be effectively taking a 10-15% pay cut. So that has to mean at least a few thousand dollars.

    2. PB*

      The letter specifies “thousands of dollars a year,” so it’s not an insignificant amount of money.

    3. Iris Eyes*

      In the letter it alludes to a 10-15% pay cut, seemingly paid as a year end holiday “bonus.” Making some logical leaps I think we can assume that 3-4k per person is the neighborhood we are talking about. Granted that’s taking their word for it, the original amount might be half that and they are just trying to see if they can get more out of the new boss.

      I agree with your assessment though, this is above Jackson’s pay grade.

    4. Observer*

      As others have said, the OP makes it clear that this was a significant chunk of money. Even at minimum wage the occasional free cup of coffee and $100 at holiday time isn’t going to add up to 10-15% of a persons wages. Nor does it add up to “thousands of dollars”. Those two numbers are all we really need to know that this is a major issue one way or another.

    5. Delta Delta*

      OOPS. I missed the part about it being thousands of dollars per year. Thanks for correcting me!

  27. Mockingjay*

    Re #1: My manager gave me a questionable reimbursement last week. I moved offices and the new room is very dim. I purchased a desk lamp (with permission) and submitted a reimbursement request form per company policy.

    Apparently my manager never submitted the form to Finance (he says he kept forgetting), so he paid me cash out of his own pocket. I don’t know if he ever intends to submit the form. I stuck the cash in the back of the drawer. I’m not touching it until I find out if he gets formally repaid. If he isn’t, then I’m returning the cash and I’ll just take the lamp with me when I leave.

  28. Hiring Mgr*

    Maybe #1 is an elaborate test of Jackson’s integrity, in other words the whole thing is made up and sr managment is doing this to see what Jackson does next?

    1. Catalin*

      If so, he needs to get out. Anyone who dreams this up as an elaborate test is part of a seriously dysfunctional workplace.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*


        Although, given the bizarre “tests” that occasionally pop up at job interviews, one has to wonder…

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I just think it’s unfair to penalize the former supervisor or the two employees while Jackson gets to strut around like he’s Mr. Integrity.

      1. fposte*

        It sounds like you think Jackson did something wrong and is getting away with it, but what? It seems logical to me to penalize the people who breached government guidelines and not the ones who didn’t.

      2. Starbuck*

        I doubt there would be any penalty coming for the former supervisor if they’re no longer employed there. I would HOPE that there is some kind of penalty for these two employees who are essentially trying to extort money from their new boss. At minimum, the penalty ought to be not getting that money anymore.

        And what’s with the censure of Jackson? What makes you think he’ll “strut around”? That’s a bizarre reaction to someone who’s been put in an extremely awkward position and trying to find the best way to navigate it. Unless you think the solution is to just keep it quiet? Other commentors (and Alison) have explained very well why that’s a terrible idea.

  29. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#4…..unless your wife works at a small or mid-size business, I really wouldn’t be too concerned. If she works for any large retailer or service business, the complaints typically go to a centralized mailbox and are then parceled out and addressed based on the nature of the complaint and whether or not there was a problem at a specific location. If your complaint is that the company has raised prices in general, and you didn’t have a pricing issue related to your wife’s specific location, chances are very slim that your wife’s manager would ever even know about the compliant. When I was a retail manager, for every 50 complaints that were made, only about 2 were ever specific enough to make it to me with enough information to enable me to address them. Most were just general venting about policies and procedures that people didn’t like.

    And even if the complaint made it’s way to your wife’s boss, most retail and service industry managers are aware that their own employees, their spouses, and family members are also customers who may have complaints from time-to-time. It’s just part of the gig. So long as your complaint was professionally worded and based in fact, I see no reason it should be any reflection on your wife in any way and most managers I’ve known wouldn’t bat an eye. You’d be treated like any other customer with the intent to resolve your issue ASAP and retain you as a customer.

  30. Web Marketer*

    OP 4, what did you think complaining to customer care about price increases was going to accomplish? Retail stores hear complaints about pricing all the time. They didn’t need you, personally, to tell them that customers don’t like price increases. Pricing comes from corporate and is based on a complicated formula that’s often invisible to customers, but dramatically affects the company’s bottom line and continued existence. It’s weird that you decided to contact your wife’s employer over something that your complaint is very unlikely to change. I’d get it if you were treated badly or a product was defective or you saw something unsafe happening in a X store on Y date – something actionable – and even then, why wouldn’t you talk to her about it first? It’s just really weird that you left her out of all this.

  31. CMart*

    #4: I don’t think they’d “retaliate” in any significant way, but for better or worse the family members of employees are supposed to refrain for doing things that look damaging to the company. This includes making formal complaints. So when you go around the informal “keep it in-house” unspoken system it does reflect a little badly on your wife.

    I used to work for a massive chain restaurant, and some of our bar regulars were the parents of a manager (who later was promoted to General Manager). Her mom *loathed* me for reasons to this day I have never been able to suss out and she would constantly use the receipt surveys as a way to air her grievances both with me as a bartender and with the company practices (price increases, for example). My manager herself would just roll her eyes and ignore the complaints, but the district manager was constantly on her about the fact that complaint after complaint kept rolling in from someone “who should know better”.

    I think it definitely held her back professionally and kept her from being promoted as quickly as she could have been. She really had to prove her loyalty to the company in ways that she otherwise wouldn’t have needed to. Is it right or fair? I honestly can’t say, but it’s definitely a bad look.

  32. FCJ*

    #2, I’m a lead student worker at a small academic library. At the beginning of each year, we try to make sure our new hires aren’t scheduled without either a staff member or more experienced student around for their shift, until we have confidence that they’re ok on their own. We also give them training all at once in the basics, so that they’ve at least done it once, and we let them know that it’s normal to forget until you’ve done it a few times, so don’t be afraid to ask.

    Also, are your student workers there to help patrons use the library, or are they there for “customer service”? The distinction can make a huge difference in how you view them, how you expect them to be treated by patrons and other staff, and how much leeway you give them for learning and making mistakes. Obviously you follow whatever the policy is, but you might consider whether you’re personally thinking of your student workers as assistant librarians or as basically cashiers, because that might make a difference in the way you train them.

  33. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 Give them trainee badges. People are being lab rats anyway – may as well warn them so they’ll understand why the staff member can’t help them.

  34. Falling Diphthong*

    #3 Ignore it if it’s not worth the bother to you. But sending Alison’s suggested email would be a public service. First because it’s a violation of trust–everyone is trying to reduce spam, and subverting that because hey you just realized you have access to the list of all Little League Parents or Teapot Analysts in the state deserves some blowback. (I got them a couple of times for local politics, and boy was that a wild dust-up of angry reply-alls.) Second because there is a small number of people who were not annoyed, but instead were thinking “Oh, if Humphrey does this for his daughter’s lacrosse picture, I can do it for my kid’s wrapping paper sales!” and the only way to convince them it’s not the norm is to prevent it becoming one.

  35. OP #3*

    I actually already sent Alison an update about this situation because it got weirder between the day I sent my question and her posting it. Not only did I receive another email from him, I received some from his wife as well! I’m going to take her advice and tell both of them that the letter made me uncomfortable. (For the record, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people on the mailing list they sent to.)

  36. Good Company*

    #4 why OPs husband would complain about a price increase is baffling. From a long-term self-interest perspective, it’s safe to presume a price increase, at some point in the chain of reactions, leads to better salaries for OP. And thus improved combined finances for OP and husband.

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